Reports indicate the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could grant Category 1 rating to Vietnam “soon”, allowing the Southeast Asian nation’s airlines to fly to the U.S. and codeshare with American carriers. Vietnam’s efforts to gain the top safety ranking have been backed by U.S. giant Boeing, as the country’s airlines are major customers of both Boeing and Airbus jets.

The Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV) has been attempting to achieve the top air safety ranking for quite some time and may now be on the verge of obtaining Category 1. According to two U.S. officials cited by Reuters on January 31, 2019, the regulator may be issuing the no. 1 rating for the country “within weeks”.

Under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention (signed in 1944), each country is responsible for the safety oversight of its own carriers, the FAA states. The agency conducts what is known as the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA), auditing the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of each country that has carriers operating flights to the U.S.

The goal of the assessment is to determine if the foreign CAA meets the safety standards of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization). Granting Category 1 rating allows the country’s carriers to initiate or continue air transport services to the U.S. and have codeshare agreements with American carriers. In other words, the ranking is required for any Vietnam-based airlines wanting to add U.S. destinations.

So where does Vietnam stand?

Currently, Vietnam does not hold a FAA air safety rating, as public IASA records reflect, and there are no non-stop flights from the country to the U.S. Instead, the U.S.-Vietnam market is served through hubs in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China. Meanwhile, Vietnams’ Southeast Asia neighbors - Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines - all hold Category 1.

Direct flights to the U.S. are operated from Singapore and the Philippines. Most notably, Singapore Airlines offers non-stop flights to a number of destinations, including Houston, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as flights to Honolulu, Hawaii, on its subsidiary Scoot. Philippine Airlines offers direct flights to Los Angeles from capital Manila. Services to the U.S. from Malaysia and Indonesia are provided through connecting flights and the airlines’ codeshare partners.

Thailand, on the other hand, has been downgraded to Category 2, which means the country’s aviation safety processes fall short and need to be reviewed by the FAA. Under this rating, the FAA states, carriers from that country cannot initiate new services to the U.S. while they implement corrective measures.

At least until the beginning of 2018, as Bloomberg wrote at the time, Vietnam also held a Category 2 ranking, but must have dropped out completely as IASA ratings do not currently include the country (countries are removed from the list after four years if they have no services to the U.S., no codesharing agreements and no significant interactions with the FAA).

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Eye on the prize

Back in August 2018, a team from the FFA visited Vietnam to conduct the necessary safety assessment, Air Transport World reported at the time. The following month, CAAV stated, it received a four-person delegation from the U.S. Ministry of Transport and the U.S. State Department to discuss recent developments in Vietnam’s aviation industry; an indication that the CAAV might be heading towards a safety rating.