NGARI/CHENGDU, July 2 (Xinhua) -- Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, known as the "Roof of the World", on Thursday opened its fourth civil airport in farwest Ngari area, shortening a trip to the regional capital Lhasa to one and half hours from three or four days by car.
An Airbus 319 landed at Gunsa Airport in Ngari Prefecture at 10:20 a.m., marking the airport's official opening.
The passenger flight from Chengdu, capital of the neighboring Sichuan Province, was operated by Air China's southwestern branch.
An Air China flight would fly from Chengdu to Lhasa and on to Ngari every Tuesday and Friday, said Bao Lida, a spokesman with the company's southwestern branch based in Chengdu.
"The flight leaves Chengdu at 5:50 a.m. and arrives in Lhasa two hours later," said Bao. "It leaves Lhasa at 8:40 a.m. and arrives Ngari at 10:20 a.m."
At an altitude of 4,274 meters with a 4,500-meter runway, Gunsa Airport is now the third highest airport in the world. Bamda Airport in Qamdo in eastern Tibet and Kangding Airport in Sichuan Province sit 4,334 meters and 4,280 meters above sea level, respectively.
Annual capacity of Gunsa Airport is expected to reach 120,000 passengers by 2020.
Before the airport opened, Ngari was linked to Lhasa only by road, taking three or four days to cover the 1,600-km route.
"Bad transportation infrastructure was the biggest bottleneck crippling Ngari's development, but now with a 100-minute flight, I believe it would bring talents and business opportunities to Ngari ," said Dawa Tashi, deputy secretary of the prefecture committee of the Communist Party of China.
But the pricey flight fare of 2,590 yuan (382 U.S. dollars) for the 100-minute flight from Ngari to Lhasa might be out of many people's reach in a prefecture where the annual per capita income was only 3,148 yuan in 2009, which was a 16.8 percent increase compared with that in 2008.
Construction of the airport began in May 2007 and cost an estimated 1.65 billion yuan (241.22 million U.S. dollars).
The flight distance between Chengdu and Ngari is 2,300 km. Tickets can be purchased at several ticket offices, but are not available on the Internet.
"This is the first time that I flew to Ngari and it was much more convenient than before," said Liu Li, a passenger on the plane.
Liu said she and her friends from south China's Guangdong Province and East China's Shanghai Municipality would visit Ngari since they no longer have to come here by bus, which was a difficult journey.
Gunsa Airport is the fourth civil airport in Tibet after Gonggar Airport in Lhasa, Bamda Airport in Qamdo Prefecture and Nyingchi Airport.
A fifth airport, Peace Airport in Xigaze, is expected to open in October.
Exactly four years ago, China opened a landmark railway linking Tibet with major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.