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Flights Increase to Compete with Railway
2006-08-11

Airlines have increased the number of flights to Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, hoping to help themselves to a slice of the tourism boom stimulated by the Qinghai-Tibet Railway that opened on Saturday.

Following a new air route between Xi'an and Lhasa launched by Hainan Airlines in May, China Eastern Airlines also opened a Shanghai-Xi'an-Lhasa route this week.

The latter promised to add three Airbus A319 aircraft for the new route by the end of this year.

Air China, which has monopolized air travel in and out of Tibet for nearly 40 years, will put three Airbus A330s into use on the route between Chengdu and Lhasa and increase the flights from 8 to 10 times a day.

The Tourism Bureau of Tibet predicts that the operation of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will increase the number of tourists to Tibet by 400,000 a year.

Chen Xin, vice-manager of Air China's planning department, said the railway will have little influence on airline passenger numbers.

On the contrary, the increasing tourist entries into Tibet should mean new customers.

Chen added that he believed more people would enter by train and leave by air.

Currently, it costs 2,430 yuan (US$303) for a one-way air ticket from Beijing to Lhasa while a hard seat on the train costs only 389 yuan (US$48.6).

Though the air companies increased flights to explore the market in Tibet, Chinese aviation authorities said there would be no change in the air ticket price.

Gao Hongfeng, vice-director of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China, said that one reason for the air ticket price to Lhasa remaining high is that planes have to be specially adapted to fly to the region, raising costs.

Also, planes flying towards Tibet must carry more fuel for the return journey, and thus passengers and goods must be reduced to balance the weight.

Last year, 108 flights were unable to enter Tibet due to poor weather, a frequent occurrence that hits the airlines in the pocket.

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