The airport that’s above the clouds! World’s highest civilian airport opens in Tibet
PUBLISHED: 10:50 GMT, 17 September 2013 | UPDATED: 11:44 GMT, 19 September 2013
High flyer: A plane takes off from the terminal of Daocheng Yading Airport
The take-off from the newly-opened Daocheng Yading Airport should be a relatively short affair.
Standing at 4,411 metres above sea level it is already half the height of a plane’s average cruising altitude.
Perched in the mountainous Tibetan region of south-west Sichuan Province, China‘s newest hub has broken the record for highest civilian airport in the world.
Touching down: Local Tibetans wave hada, or traditional silk scarves, as they greet the first group of passengers at Daocheng Yading Airport. It takes the title from Qamdo Bamda Airport, also in Tibet, which sits at 4,334 metres.
Star appeal: Tibetans took pictures of themselves in front of the Air China flight
The first Air China flight arrived at the 1.58 billion yuan (£164million) airport on Monday to great fanfare and locals were seen taking photos of themselves on the runway.
The airport was built to connect the Garzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture with the capital of Sichuan Province, Chengdu.
Travel between the two used to take two days by bus, but has now been reduced to a one-hour flight.
Mountain retreat: Yading Nature Reserve is a site of Tibetan pilgrimage
Designed to handle 280,000 passengers a year, China hopes the airport will encourage tourism to the Yading Nature Reserve, a mountainous area that is a site for Tibetan pilgrimage.
Three of the snowy peaks – Mount Yangmaiyong, Mount Xiaruoduijie, and Mount Xianairi – were sanctified by the 5th Dalai Lama and the area is known for being barely touched by outside influence.
The Chinese government hopes to attract 15 million tourists to the Tibetan regions by 2015, which would bring two billion yuan (£205million) into the country.
However, both the tourism plan and airport are controversial, as they help to further Chinese political control in Tibet.
The number of self-immolation incidents carried out by monks and protestors over Chinese rule has risen in the past two years, leading China to close the border to foreign visitors on several occasions.
Tibet declared its independence from China in 1913, but the Chinese army re-entered the country in 1950, bringing it back under Chinese power.
The Tibetan head of the Buddhist religion, the Dalai Lama, fled to India in 1959 and has since led calls from Tibet to regain its independence and for the protection of the Tibetan culture from Chinese influence.