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 South China Sea: Civil Air Service to Spratly Island By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0046/ 2015


Q1. Have you seen any reports about Vietnam setting up a civil air route to the Spratly Island, and to expand the existing airport this year? There has been some tweeting about this but without any link to news reports. There appears to be no reference in English and Chinese media reports. Is there any reference in the Vietnamese media?

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ANSWER: So far there has been no reference in the Vietnamese language media. There are private reports circulating that Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport has plans underway to launch a civilian air service to the Spratly islands (Truong Sa Lon) to commence by the end of this year.

Q2. What kind of facilities are available on Truong Sa Lon? Does it make commercial sense to launch civilian air service to that island? If they were to expand Spratly islands, which ones do you think would be the most likely options?

ANSWER: Truong Sa Lon is the most likely destination of a civil air service. It has the largest runway of any of Vietnam’s islands in the Spratly group. A commercial air service could be Vietnam’s response to China’s development of tourism in the Paracels. The commercial viability of a civilian air service has yet to be established. There is unlikey to be much traffic unless Vietnam opens it up for foreign tourists. This would be more of a political assertion of sovereignty – that is a demonstration of administrative control and the Spratly Islands have an economic function.

Q3. Truong Sa Lon is the only airstrip Vietnam has built, right?

ANSWER: Yes (see table above left and Figure 6 and Map 92 below). There does not appear to be an airstrip on Southwest Cay (see Figure 7 below).

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Below are photographs showing two airstrips. The first is on Pagasa island (Thitu Island in Vietnamese) occupied by the Philippines and. The second shows Spratly Island or Truong Sa occupied by Vietnam. The source is a 99 page study in Vietnamese of all the occupied islands and features in the Paracel and Spratly islands published in 2013. Truong Sa Lon is the only Vietnamese island to have an airstrip as of 2013. The largest airstrips in the South China Sea on are on Woody Island, occupied by China in the Paracels and Layang Layang occupied by Malaysia in southern South China Sea (see table above).

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(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra email:

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