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China launches new airline for restive Tibet

August 5, 2011

A bird flies in front of the peak of Mount Everest, also known as Qomolangma, as seen from near Everest Base Camp in the Tibet Autonomous Region April 29, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray

A bird flies in front of the peak of Mount Everest, also known as Qomolangma, as seen from near Everest Base Camp in the Tibet Autonomous Region April 29, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

BEIJING | Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:49am EDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - A new airline for China's restive Tibet region began operations on Tuesday, state media said, part of government plans to boost development and raise incomes in the remote area that chafes under Beijing's rule.

Tibet Airlines will initially serve Tibet's growing number of airports as well as cities in neighbouring provinces, but will eventually fly all over China as well as to international destinations in South Asia, Xinhua news agency said.

Its first flight was from Tibet's capital Lhasa to Ngari, a distant and sparsely populated part of Tibet close to the Indian borders that only got an airport last year, Xinhua added.

It operates Airbus A319 aircraft, the report said, a suitable model to serve Tibet's high altitude airfields, including Bangda, which lies at 4,334 meters (14,219 ft) above sea level and is the highest commercial airport in the world.

Tibet Airlines is controlled by an investment company run by the government of what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region, according to the civil aviation regulator's website (www.caac.gov.cn).

"In five years, it is expected to have a fleet of 20 aircraft," Xinhua said.

China wants to more than double the number of tourists visiting Tibet by 2015, when it hopes the Himalayan region will play host to about 15 million visitors a year, creating more than 300,000 jobs.

Tibet's economy has grown more quickly than the rest of China, sped by the completion of a railway to Lhasa and large mining projects.

But those projects have also brought more Chinese migrants to Tibet, leading to many Tibetans' perceptions that they have been left out of economic growth.

Since bloody demonstrations in 2008, the government has boosted training programmes, subsidies and investment there in an implicit recognition of the economic roots to the unrest. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills)

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