Airlines urged to open flights to Tibet region

08:45, January 26, 2010      

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China's civil aviation administration is encouraging domestic and foreign airlines to open flights linking Tibet to help boost the autonomous region's economy and tourism.

In a circular released yesterday, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said 18 measures would be adopted to enhance civil aviation infrastructure and services in Tibet.

Domestic and foreign airlines are encouraged to open international flights to or via Tibet, under bilateral civil aviation frameworks, a spokeswoman for CAAC said yesterday.

Currently, only the airport in Lhasa, regional capital of Tibet, has international flights to Katmandu, capital of Nepal, she said.

Domestic airlines are also encouraged to open flights linking Tibet with other domestic airports, including those in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. The CAAC will give these flights priority in time schedules.

At present, nine cities have flights to Tibet, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Kunming, but the administration wants more cities to be linked with the southwestern region.

To encourage airlines to brave the risks of exploring a new market, the CAAC said two to three years' protection would be given to the sole airline that opens a new route between Tibet and a city other than the above nine.

That also means that the administration will not approve other airlines that want to operate on the same route after the route is seen as profitable.

The CAAC will also plan more airports in Tibet to allow more local residents to enjoy air services and provide funding for the construction and upgrading of airports in the region.

"The measures are expected to boost tourism in Tibet and enhance communication between Tibet and other parts of China," said Zhao Jian, professor with Beijing Jiaotong University.

The tourism industry has hailed the measures, calling it "good news".

Pang Guiqiu, general manager of domestic tour department with China Comfort Travel Service, said more flights will make it even more convenient to travel to the autonomous region.

The travel service, with 108 branches across the country, has seen a fast increase of tourists joining tour groups for Tibet, since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway in 2006, he said.

"Now, even in the winter, we send tour groups to Tibet. This was impossible four or five years ago," he said.

The convenient transport and improved infrastructure in Tibet are the major reasons for the growth, he said.

But it is still a little troublesome for tourists from some parts of the country, who will have to go to Tibet via Chengdu, Chongqing, Xi'an and Xining, he said. "With more flights linking Tibet and even more convenient transport conditions, more tourists will be attracted to Tibet," he said.

At present, 16 air routes link Tibet's Lhasa, Qamdo and Nyingchi with nine domestic cities and the Nepal capital of Katmandu.

In summer, up to 212 flights fly in and out of Tibet each week. The newly built airport in Ngari prefecture is also expected to begin operations later this year.

Thanks in part to the railways and flights, Tibet for the first time received more than 5 million tourists from home and abroad last year, setting a new record.

Source:China Daily
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