Lhasa Gonggar Airport in Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region opened its newly constructed Terminal 3, which is the biggest in the region, for operations on Saturday, marking a significant milestone in the region’s rapid infrastructure development that could significantly boost passenger and cargo transport and help the region become a global logistics hub for South Asia, experts said on Sunday.
With the new terminal, the airport is expected to meet an annual handling capacity of 9 million passengers and 80,000 metric tons of cargo, handling more than 75 percent of the passenger flow of all airports in Tibet, according to the airport.
The expansion project, which started over three years ago, included the 88,000-square-meter terminal, which is over three times the size of the original terminal and has a 21-stand parking apron, a supporting air traffic control facility, and new communication and airfreight facilities. The expansion project of Lhasa Gonggar Airport started in December 2017 with an investment of 3.9 billion yuan ($603 million).
In recent years, infrastructure construction in Tibet has accelerated with many civil aviation, railways, and highway projects, said Liu Zongyi, the secretary-general of the Research Center for China-South Asia Cooperation at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.
“This is expected to help build the region into an international logistics hub for South Asia”
Liu told on Sunday.
Since late 2012, China has been stepping up its infrastructure investment in the autonomous region, which has launched 130 air routes, with 61 cities connected by flights, according to the Xinhua News Agency. In 2020, the number of passenger trips made through these airports totaled 5.18 million. And in April, officials announced that Tibet will build three new airports, including a second runway at the Lhasa Gonggar Airport.
“The improved infrastructure in Tibet is expected to boost the tourism and promote local agriculture and animal husbandry products as many of them rely on the cold chain for efficient and fast transportation,” Liu said.
During the May Day holiday this year, Lhasa Gonggar Airport handled 940 flights, 102,000 passenger trips and 653 tons of cargo and mail, up 81.8 percent, 83.9 percent, and 14.3 percent from 2020, respectively, according to official data.
The expansion of the airport is likely to greatly improve the travel experience and convenience of passengers traveling to and from Tibet, Lin Zhijie, a market watcher, told the on Sunday.
“The original design capacity of the T2 terminal is only 1 million, which is already overloaded. The operation of T3 with 9 million passenger handling capability can greatly improve the travel experience of passengers and make it more convenient and comfortable for people to fly,” Lin said, adding that the airport will help boost local economic development and improve livelihood in the region.
Lhasa Gonggar Airport was constructed in 1966 as one of the world’s first high-altitude airports and the only international airport in Tibet with international air routes to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
It is expected that more international air routes will be launched in the future in the South Asia region to boost trade and logistics transportation, experts said.
“The completion of the expansion project of the Lhasa Gonggar Airport will effectively help Tibet to further integrate into [the Belt and Road Initiative] to promote regional economic and social development,” Bai Zhen, director of the Tibet bureau of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said at the launch ceremony.