Captain Nguyen Ba Hai: Passionate about flying since childhood, flies about 400-500 flights a year, passengers are more than just revenue

Captain Nguyen Ba Hai: Passionate about flying since childhood, flies about 400-500 flights a year, passengers are more than just revenue

TMG – “For me, flying brings a sense of freedom. In life, I think everyone wants to feel free. That’s why I love flying. From there, I started on a path to becoming a pilot,” said Hai Au Aviation captain.


Exploring Ha Long Bay by cruise ship, boat or kayak, is nothing new. However, seeing the islands from a seaplane (capable of landing on water) is unique, inspiring completely new sensations, and something that everyone should try when traveling to Ha Long Bay.

The scenic flight lasts 25 minutes at an altitude high enough to see 4 islands: Tuan Chau Island, Calf’s Head (Dau Be) Island, Red Drainage (Cong Do) Island, and Soapberry (Bo Hon) Island, and is made more interesting as the captain and co-pilot introduce each island as the plane flies over it.

To learn more about sightseeing flights with Hai Au Aviation, Asia’s leading seaplane operator and a member of the tourism Thien Minh Group (TMG), we spoke with Captain Nguyen Ba Hai, who has flown thousands of safely completed flights carrying both domestic and international tourists.

Life at Halong Bay is seen from Hai Au Aviation seaplanes.

Honored to be named as Asia’s leading seaplane operator

Reporter: As of 2023, Hai Au Aviation has been named “Asia’s leading seaplane operator” 5 consecutive times by the World Travel Awards. Can you talk about this special award?

I am delighted and proud that this is the 5th consecutive time Hai Au Aviation has won the Asia’s Leading Seaplane Operator award. To date, there aren’t many airlines operating seaplanes in Asia, and for the countries that have them, these airlines usually only operate domestic flights in small geographical areas (for example, Hai Au mainly operates in the Hanoi – Quang Ninh area).

Therefore, we do not have the opportunity to learn from each other; rather, we operate in our own isolated environments. In such a context, I am very honored that Hai Au Aviation is rated as Asia’s leading seaplane operator.

Reporter: Seaplane tourism is still relatively new in Vietnam, as well as in Southeast Asia. What opportunities and challenges are there? How do you continue to develop your own knowledge and profession?

With Hai Au Aviation’s reputation, several airlines in Thailand, Korea, Cambodia, and the Czech Republic have reached out to us to promote cooperation and exchange experiences. They’ve seen Hai Au lead the way and have begun sending pilots to Vietnam to learn from our experience as a successful model in Southeast Asia and Asia in general. For our part, Hai Au also plans to send pilots to Thailand to gain more experience.

In addition to these exchanges, Hai Au maintains open channels to exchange information with experienced organizations around the world, especially with the seaplane community in North America and Australia.

Admire the stunning beauty of Ha Long Bay from above, at an altitude of 300 meters.

Reporter: How many times a month, a week, does a captain fly? What are the regulations on the frequency and number of passengers per flight?

Because Hai Au Aviation operates as an air taxi, we schedule flights according to passenger demand, at a maximum of 5-7 days a week and 8 flights per day. We are not allowed to work more than 60 hours a week, and no more than 90 hours a month. Depending on the season, high or low, the average Hai Au pilot flies between 50-70 hours a month. This is a good number to ensure that each Hai Au Aviation flight with a maximum of 12 passengers, not counting the captain and co-pilot, is as successful as it can be.

Reporter: What value do seaplanes bring to the tourism industry as well as the economy?

We all know about commercial aviation, which takes people from point A to point B. With Hai Au seaplanes, our mission is to get travelers up in the air to see the scenery. We do fly between Hanoi and Ha Long, but our core business is creating enjoyable sightseeing experiences. In that way, Hai Au is also contributing to the general aviation industry in Vietnam.

Reporter: Many people don’t know the difference between helicopters and seaplanes. Can you explain?

A lot of people confuse the two. In my opinion, there are two reasons:

One has to do with aviation knowledge. Helicopters and seaplanes are not common in Vietnam, so that can lead to confusion. The second has to do with terminology. The word “airplane” is common, but the proper word for “seaplane” in Vietnamese is quite long and no one really calls them that.

In order to clear up the confusion, I think tackling the issue of aviation knowledge is a huge challenge. However, when it comes to terminology, I would recommend calling them something much simpler, for instance, “airplanes that can land on water” or “flying machines that can go straight up”, in the case of helicopters.

Hai Au Aviation Seaplane at Halong Bay. Source: Hai Au Aviation.

I find happiness at work…

 Reporter: How do you prepare before each flight?

We closely adhere to the airline’s procedures: After receiving the flight plan, we have a discussion with the crew. This is standard operating procedure and relates to professional ethics. If the flight crew feels that the pilot is lacking in any way, for example, seems distracted, this can be reported to the company. If there are complaints about the quality of a pilot’s work, the company also has a specific process to follow to objectively investigate the complaint. The issue will be evaluated from both sides to achieve the ultimate goal of the overall safety of the flight. In other words, everything is done on the basis of a standard set of procedures.

As professional pilots, we have to go through strict regulatory steps. And because of that, professional pilots are different from recreational pilots or members of flying clubs. At Hai Au, we’re creating a constructive environment with the goal of improving pilot competence, which ultimately leads to safer flights.

In addition, in the aviation sector, there’s something called flight crew resource management. On the day of the flight, experienced pilots will take a moment to assess themselves physically and emotionally, their current condition, attitude toward family members… Especially with small aircraft with only two pilots, pilots must be very serious-minded and assess all risk factors. For example, if a pilot didn’t sleep well the night before or felt physically tired, he could ask the company to assign another pilot. During the flight, the pilot will also turn off his phone so as not to be distracted. This whole process requires self-evaluation.

In addition to assessing themselves, captains and co-pilots will have a discussion before the flight, or even before the day of the flight.

On the technical side, the weather also needs to be carefully monitored. Ha Long is a free-flight area, with no air traffic facilities, no airport, and no ground support system, so it is very important to assess the weather. Even the night before the flight, pilots must find out what the weather in Ha Long will be like in advance: waves of cold air, wind, flight direction, and other external factors.

HAA: Can you talk about how you were drawn to this profession? How long have you been flying seaplanes?

I’ve been passionate about aviation since childhood. I’m fascinated by any flying vehicle, building it, and figuring it out. Since childhood, I’ve built model aircraft, remote control planes—you name it. I also got into paragliding.

For me, flying brings a sense of freedom. In life, I think everyone wants to feel free. That’s why I love flying. From that, I went on a path to becoming a pilot. If Vietnam had the right conditions and had flying clubs, I would probably be flying as a hobby. However, there are none in Vietnam and there still isn’t a legal process to allow for non-commercial flying, so I chose to become a professional pilot. I find happiness at work. Work also treats me well; it allows me to have a good life, a decent income, and social standing. I’ve been working at Hai Au for more than 10 years now.

Do you know how many flights you’ve flown so far? What was your most memorable flight?

I can’t remember how many flights I’ve flown. But on average, I fly about 400-500 flights a year, so in the past 10 years, that would be approximately 5,000 flights and around 4,000 flight hours. My 10 years of employment is also 10 years where Hai Au has grown as a company. I have many great memories, of which the flights that marked the development of Hai Au are always the ones I remember the most.

For example, my first flight from Hanoi to Ha Long in 2014. Or when Hai Au began operating geological survey and data-gathering flights in Vietnam. I will never forget those first flights because, before Hai Au, there were no companies flying those kinds of flights.

I remember those first geological survey flights that Hai Au operated in 2018. We flew from the Hue airport out to sea and back. A geological survey flight is not like a flight from point A to point B but requires operating a mechanical device from the air to measure the Earth’s magnetic field and gravity for a project by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. They wanted this data for all of Vietnam’s marine territory.

For these flights, the aircraft has to maintain a low altitude, about 400m. We flew from the coast for about 100km and back, flying back and forth from south to north like a farmer plowing a field. Flying so low, we didn’t have radio communication with the airfield or an air traffic command station on shore. We had to do our research and find ways to increase safety precautions, for example, equipping the aircraft with pontoons for safety if we needed to land at sea. Developing a flight plan when there is no contact with the mainland was challenging…

After a long period of preparation, my first flight from Hue airport out to sea was very successful. That day, the sky was clear, the sea was blue, and I counted every minute, every mile on the way to the turn-back point. I was quite nervous because I had never gone so far out to sea at such a low altitude.

Then, gradually, after mastering the technique and process, from 2018–2021, when the project ended, Hai Au flew more than 1,000 hours for the project, measuring the Earth’s magnetic field and gravity over a large territory of Vietnam stretching from Mong Cai to Ha Tien, in the Gulf of Thailand. Through those flights, we also got to see the length of the country, from south to north.

Hai Au also opened a completely new route to Co To Island in 2022. Co To is a place where seaplanes had never flown. The area around Quang Ninh desperately needs seaplanes. The islands here are not too big, but they are cut off from each other, so bringing in seaplanes was a good thing, helping to connect localities in the Quang Ninh area.

Thuỷ phi cơ
The unique journey to Ha Long Bay on Hai Au seaplanes always leaves unforgettable memories in the hearts of visitors.

We try to give guests the very best experience possible because it’s likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Reporter: When faced with pressure at work, how do you find a balance?

Work pressure is huge. But there are three things that help me find balance at work. First, my childhood passion for flying has helped me forget the hardships. I was passionate about flying, dreamed of flying, and invested a lot of money to learn how to fly. So I view pressure as just another part of work.

Secondly, in Vietnam, commercial aviation is quite developed but general aviation flight models are lacking. Once we defined our mission as a pioneer in the industry, we had to accept the significant headwinds that came along with that. That mission is not just mine alone but also Hai Au’s. So some pressure is to be expected.

Third, the joy of passengers helps me forget about fatigue and anxiety. For me, it’s 8 flights a day, 500 flights a year. But for our passengers, it’s

likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Those memories are priceless. So I view that as a source of motivation. I don’t look at guests in terms of the few hundred dollars they spend or how long the flights last. Instead, I try to give them the best experience possible. That’s what all Hai Au pilots do.

Reporter: The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it many changes, with the tourism industry suffering significant losses and facing many challenges. What policies did Hai Au Aviation and its seaplanes implement to cope with the crisis?

Fortunately, Hai Au was saved by the domestic market during COVID-19. Before the pandemic, Hai Au focused on the international traveler market. When COVID-19 hit, Hai Au lost those international visitors, so in 2020, we changed our sales model and restructured prices to target the Vietnamese market. During the pandemic years, the Hanoi – Ha Long route couldn’t be operated because it was not popular with Vietnamese travelers. However, there was a demand for sightseeing flights over Ha Long.

At the peak of COVID-19, in 2020 and 2021, when most things came to a standstill, Hai Au was able to survive, in part thanks to hyper-local travelers who were able to travel within the province of Quang Ninh. We had flights taking ethnic travelers from the mountainous region of Quang Ninh to Tuan Chau. It’ll take some time for international visitors to really return.

Reporter: What’s ahead for Hai Au?

Ha­­i Au will certainly continue to implement solutions to ensure travelers have the best and safest sightseeing flights possible. Everything that Hai Au has gone through, both successes and failures, provides lessons to continue to grow.

Thank you for speaking with us!

Source: CafeBiz

For more information about Hai Au Aviation, a member of Thien Minh Group (TMG), please contact:

Hotline: 0962 069 689

Email: [email protected]


Established in 1994, TMG has grown from a company with just three employees to an enterprise with more than 2,500 employees worldwide. Thien Minh is now Asia’s leading package travel provider, founded on the mission of always putting our clients front and center. With four business pillars: Destination Management, Hospitality, Online, Aviation – TMG is the ideal host for distinctive journeys featuring truly memorable travel experiences.