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Tibet Becomes One of China's Busiest Air Traffic Hubs

Tibet, bidding farewell to its traditional yaks, has become a major airline hub, sources with China Southwest Airlines (CSA) said.

Wang Shixiang, general manager of CSA, said that the number of passengers flying to Tibet has been increasing by 20 percent every year. CSA, the only airline company currently flying to Tibet, has always stressed the importance of Tibet's flight business.

According to statistics, during the peak season, from July to September, daily flights hit an average of six and a maximum of ten. The occupancy rate was over 95 percent. Ninety percent of the passengers were tourists, of which 25 percent were foreigners, and the remaining 10 percent were business people and Tibetan students.

CSA launched its Chengdu to Lhasa route in 1965 and now has ten routes to serve the growing number of tourists and Tibetans. The present airline network covers Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Hong Kong, as well as other destinations.

Sources with CSA said that the period covering October 2002 to April 2003 would no longer be considered the traditional off-season due to the fact that the Tibetan Tourism Bureau, together with CSA, has promoted winter tourism programs such as highland snow scenery. These programs have drawn a large number of Thai and Japanese tourists who are interested in the typical Tibetan landscapes and scenic areas as well as in Tibetan Buddhism.

Wang said, according to airline policy, two captains fly on every flight to ensure passenger safety. Both Airbus 340s and Boeing 757s have undergone special adaptations in light of the highland climate.

If CAS gets permission to fly the Lhasa-New Delhi route, it would create a Buddhist cultural tour that would connect Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and other countries with China's Tibet autonomous region.

The British tourist Nick Sismey drove 300 kilometers from Lhasa to the countryside for a view of highland scenery and to experience ethnic Tibetan lifestyle. He said with excitement, "This is my second time to Tibet, and every time I have different feelings. Next year I will bring my family over to spend the holidays."

(People's Daily September 20, 2002)