Westernmost airport in Tibet celebrates 10th anniversary of operation

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Publish Time: 2020-07-06 Author: From: Global Times

Gunsa Airport, the westernmost airport in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region well known for its extremely harsh geographical conditions, marked its 10th anniversary of operation on Wednesday.

The airport is located in Ngari Prefecture, which has a population of about 12,000. Since it began operations in 2010, 7,169 flights operated by Tibet Airlines, Lucky Air and China Eastern Airlines have carried 500,000 passengers, according to media reports.

With an average elevation of 4,500 meters, Ngari Prefecture previously had a backward transport system and it could take five days to one week to travel more than 1,400 kilometers to Lhasa, capital of Tibetan region, according to a manager at the airport. 

Even after the construction of the 219 national road was completed, it still took 40 hours to travel from Ngari to Lhasa. Since the airport was put into use, that journey takes just two hours and passengers can travel anywhere in the country within one day, the manager said.

Due to the harsh conditions, the airport's construction was very challenging, according to the manager. For example, equipment often did not function due to the complex climate of the high-altitude region.

The airport's operations also face troubles in the complicated environment as flight schedules and load capacities were often forced to change.

However, airport workers have in the past decade devised many unique solutions to solve the problems, and have accumulated rich experiences in high-attitude airport operations, according to the manager. For example, the airport used to experience frequent pipeline issues in the winter, and an added insulation layer was designed to prevent pipelines from freezing and bursting in cold weather.

The airport has made huge contributions to the economic development of the prefecture, as more tourists are now able to travel the Himalayan area,the manager said.

According to local government, since the airport was built, the number of tourists to the region has increased from 61,300 in 2010 to 1.09 million in 2019, with an annual growth rate of 38 percent. Tourism revenues have grown from 60 million yuan ($8.5 million) in 2010 to 1.37 billion yuan in 2019.

The local GDP has also seen an annual increase of 14 percent since 2010, increasing from 1.85 billion yuan in 2010 to 6.2 billion yuan in 2019. More daily life supplies such as fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood are now available in the remote area.

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