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Major General Nguyen Hong Nhi

Yesterday afternoon, a hero of the Vietnam Air Force and Vietnam Airlines was sent to his final resting place. That person was Major General, Hero of the Armed Forces, Uncle Nguyen Hong Nhi.

I usually don’t talk about my past work, some of the “secret history” of Vietnam’s aviation industry, although many people encourage me to tell some old stories.

But when Uncle Nhi is gone forever, I feel that it will be a mistake on my part, a favorite subordinate, if I don’t recall and tell some old stories to see the civil aviation industry in Vietnam, what will happen? 5X, 6X system in the aviation industry and personally how grateful I am to Mr. Nhi.

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For the author, Major General Nguyen Hong Nhi (white hair) is a hero of the aviation industry.

I returned home from the Soviet Union in the mid-1990s, after nearly 10 years of studying abroad. When I went to school, Vietnam Civil Aviation was still under the Air Force, I was sent by the Ministry of Defense to study abroad as a soldier. But when I returned, civil aviation had been separated from the Ministry of National Defense in 1989, into the civil sector, Uncle Nhi was the General Director.

Vietnam’s aviation at that time was all that belonged to civil aviation: airlines, airport businesses, flight management agencies, even agencies… state management of aviation.

I had about half a year that I was granted the soldier status by the Ministry of Defense without doing anything, because my field was already out of the Ministry of Defense. Sitting forever at home, every month I go to Dong Anh (Hanoi) to receive rice and meat under the army regime, I am also bored, I am thinking about applying to change the industry to civil aviation.

My old classmate who is working at Vietnam Airlines took me to see Mr. Nhi to apply for a job, and Mr. Nhi agreed to accept it. I was approved by the Ministry of Defense to change my profession to Vietnam’s aviation at the end of 1990, after I was granted the rank of lieutenant, age 28.

A big job of Vietnam Airlines at that time was to modernize the fleet in the direction of using Western aircraft because the Soviet Union collapsed after I returned to Vietnam Aviation less than 1 year, while 100% The fleet was then Soviet. The person in charge of developing the fleet (named Tru) moved to Air Saigon, so Uncle Nhi asked me to do it instead.

At that time, I was just an expert, Mr. Nhi asked the office to print me a business card with “Aircraft fleet development director” to facilitate transactions with foreign partners.

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The author took a photo with Major General Nguyen Hong Nhi (far right) in 2004.

In 1992, Uncle Nhi allowed me to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Boeing on the purchase of 4 Boeing B737-400s, but that plan was ruined because the US had not yet lifted the embargo against Vietnam and Boeing failed to apply for the contract. approved by the US government.

In 1993, we succeeded in leasing two Boeing B737-300s from TEA Basel of Switzerland and in 1994 even more successfully with the lease of Airbus A320s from Air France. One annoying thing at that time was that in order to “dodge” the US embargo, the leased Boeing and Airbus planes could not be painted with the Vietnam Airlines logo, but painted white the whole plane like a shaved pig, with no name, no logo. , no national flag.

We joke to each other “No Name Airlines” is our “Vietnam Airlines”! Boeing planes are not allowed to park overnight at airports in our country, but at the end of the day they have to fly to Bangkok to stay overnight there, the next morning they fly back to Vietnam to make flights during the day. The original aircraft spare parts did not dare to be left in Vietnam but kept in the belly of the plane, flying anywhere to carry the spare parts there, taking up space and terrible payload. The Airbus fleet was gradually increased and operated in tandem with the Soviet fleet.

September 3, 1997 was a sad day for Vietnam Airlines. That day, the plane TU-134 crashed near Phnom Penh airport, only one of the crew and passengers survived. The captain is Mr. Pham Van Tieu, a dear and very close brother to me. Every week, the two brothers sit next to each other at briefings because Mr. Tieu is also the Head of the Aviation Safety – Security Department. “Life, death,” he died on what was likely his last flight before retiring.

That same day, I joined the Aviation Administration’s delegation to the ICAO Conference on Aviation Safety in Macau. At the end of a working day, we return to the hotel. I went to my room, out of habit, turned on the TV to watch CNN and immediately wanted to faint. The TV screen was filled with news and images of the Vietnam Airlines accident in Phnom Penh. I immediately informed the delegation (Mr. Pham Vu Hien is the leader of the delegation). Then I called the representative office in Hong Kong to ask for information about the accident and informed me that I would fly back to Hanoi the next morning.

When I returned to Hanoi, work time was over, so I went straight to Uncle Nhi’s official house near the office. The two brothers and sisters greeted each other sadly. I told: “I’m having a meeting in Macau, I’ll come back when I hear the news, don’t wait for the end of the Conference.” Uncle asked: “Do you have to go home right away, or stay here for dinner and then go home?”. I stayed for dinner with my uncle. During dinner, the two of us were contemplative, no one said anything, the food did not bother to pick up, the small glass of wine poured out did not bother to drink. I just sat down to eat, thinking in my head what to tell you, what to recommend. A very sad and difficult situation.

At the end of the meal, switching to tea, the doctor asked: “What do you mean? What should be done, what should be done?”. I thought about this the whole meal, so I said: “I have this idea, I don’t know if it’s true, will you allow me to say it boldly?” Uncle replied: “Yes, just say it!” I say: “It happened, I’m sad, I’m sad too. But no matter how sad we are, the passengers and crew will not be able to come back to life. They’re dead, they can’t be saved anymore. I think what needs to be saved right now is the reputation of Vietnam Airlines. As for the prestige, the airline has a future, if the company’s reputation cannot be saved in this accident, I am worried that Vietnam Airlines will not survive!”

Uncle nodded and asked: “What should be done to save the reputation of Vietnam Airlines?”. I say: “Need a decision, a message big enough, shocking enough to capture the media wave and society’s attention, to replace the bad news about the accident”. Uncle tracked me: “Specifically what decision?”. At that point, with no way back, I decided to say what I wanted to say: “Yes, stop flying the entire fleet of Soviet planes!”.

I observed, Uncle Nhi’s face started to turn red. When Uncle Nhi is angry, his nose is usually red first, so it is not difficult to recognize. Uncle said as if shouting at me: “Are you crazy? So what’s the destructive initiative? 7 TU-134s. Hundreds of riders. Hundreds of engineers. Almost half of fleet capacity. How to stop flying the entire Soviet aircraft fleet? How can you think of such a thing?” Knowing Uncle Nhi’s character, I didn’t argue, I asked him to go home.

The next morning, when I arrived at the office, everything was decided. Around 4:00 a.m., Uncle Nhi called someone to type a document from the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam and send it to the Prime Minister requesting permission to suspend the entire fleet of TU-134 aircraft. Right at the beginning of the morning, the Civil Aviation Administration’s express document was sent to the Government. In the middle of the morning, the Government’s document announcing the Prime Minister’s consent to suspend the flight of the entire fleet of TU-134 aircraft had arrived at the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam. no and Vietnam Airlines. This decision was immediately implemented internally and notified to Vietnamese and foreign press. New information occupies the media, gradually pushing back the negative information about the accident.

But for Mr. Nhi, it was followed by a series of hard times fighting with reactions within the industry, from outside, from above. The pressure for the TU-134 fleet to be flown back was immense and persistent, mainly on Uncle Nhi, who signed the petition to suspend the TU-134 flight.

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Boeing plane.

Uncle Nhi and his successors at the Civil Aviation Administration and Vietnam Airlines were very consistent. Although it was only a decision to “stop flying”, in fact the TU-134 planes were never returned to the sky. Vietnam’s aviation industry accelerates the modernization process with Airbus and Boeing aircraft.

Up to now, our country has had a fleet of the most modern aircraft not only in the region but also in the world, with not only one airline, but many airlines.

I was in charge of developing the fleet at Vietnam Airlines until 1998. The people who replaced me in that job were even stronger and did much better than me. But me and the people who replaced me in that job could not have done much without a visionary leader, laying the foundation and steadfast in the modernization of the aviation industry like Uncle Nhi.

Uncle Nhi retired in 1998. But what he did during the beginning of the civil aviation industry from 1989 until his retirement is very great.

For me, Uncle Nhi is not only a leader who gives me many favors, he is also a hero of the aviation industry, a hero in my heart.

May you rest in peace and escape!

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