Chinese owned Tibet Airlines Co Ltd (TAC) operated its maiden flight from Lhasa Gonggar Airport to Ngari Ali Khunsa Airport yesterday. Earlier reports had suggested that TAC, the only carrier based in Lhasa, would begin operations with an inaugural direct flight connecting Beijing and Lhasa.
State-owned Tibet Investment Co. holds 51 percent of the carrier established in May 2010 while two companies – Tibet Sanli Investment Company and Tibet Ruiyi Investment Company, own 39 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.
The carrier's fleet at present has only one aircraft, an Airbus A319 but the airline plans to have about 20 aircrafts by 2015, Chinese state media reported.
Liu Yanping, general manager of TAC told Xinhua that the carrier will be serving key cities in China by next year while flights to South Asia and Southeast Asia are expected by 2013. Liu also said that the carrier was hoping to operate direct routes to Europe within four or five years.
The launch of the new airlines is a move to help realise China’s hopes that the Himalayan region will play host to about 15 million visitors a year by 2015, creating more than 300,000 jobs.
But developmental projects in Tibet, which on most occasions are planned and implemented without the involvement of native Tibetans have been a key area of conflict on the restive plateau.
China’s continued stress on economic development inside Tibet with the pouring-in of state money in the form of subsidies and investments is seen by many as a misrepresentation of the actual causes of unrest and continuing anti-government protests inside Tibet.
“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”, writes Ben Blanchard for Reuters.