Airports in Tibet | A Guide to High-altitude Air Travel in Tibet

Tibet, known as the “Roof of the World” due to its high elevation, is a large but sparsely populated region. Due to its complex terrain and unique climate, it was once considered a restricted zone for air travel. However, in 1965, Tibet opened its first airport in Lhasa, allowing for air services to the region. Currently, there are several airports in Tibet, including Lhasa, Chamdo, Nyingchi, Ngari, and Shigatse.

Lhasa Gonggar Airport

On November 23, 1966, flights to Tibet were transferred to Gonggar Airport. Lhasa Gonggar Airport is one of the earliest high-altitude airports in the world. It is a hub airport in Tibet and the only airport in the region that is open to international traffic. In 2008, the Civil Aviation Administration of Tibet completed the navigational lighting project of Lhasa Gonggar Airport within 50 days, ending Tibet’s 43-year history of no night flights.

It is situated about 62 km from Lhasa downtown, which takes about one and a half hours to drive to Lhasa city. Gonggar Airport operates non-stop flights to Chengdu, Chongqing, Diqing, Xian, Bamda (a town of Chamdo), and Kathmandu (capital of Nepal). It also operates direct flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Kunming, with stops at Chengdu, Chongqing, Xining, Xian, and Diqing.

Chamdo Airport

On April 28, 1995, Bangda Airport opened in Qamdo, marking a significant milestone in civil aviation history. It became Tibet’s first branch airport and held the title of the highest civilian airport in the world and the most distant airport from central cities in the nation. The operation of Chamdo Airport is a remarkable achievement in civilian aviation, boasting the world’s longest runway and located approximately 140 km away from Chamdo Town.

Situated at an elevation of 4,334 meters above sea level, the airport experiences challenging weather conditions, often leading to flight delays. Notably, the domestic public RNP AR flight program was successfully implemented at Qamdo Bangda Airport, while the domestically-made Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) was constructed at Nyingchi Mainling Airport, enhancing safety measures.

Nyingchi Airport

Nyingchi Mainling Airport, the third airport in the region, officially opened on September 1, 2006. It has a highly complex global clearance environment, meteorological conditions, flight environment, and navigation station layout. It was the first airport in the country to adopt RNP precision navigation technology. Additionally, Nyingchi Airport is the lowest airport in Tibet, situated at an altitude of less than 3,000 meters. Consequently, visitors may prefer to choose flights to this airport. However, it only manages flights from Chengdu, Chongqing, and Lhasa, making it difficult to access. If you have the opportunity to fly to Nyingchi Airport, be sure to keep your mind clear and appreciate the breathtaking scenery of southeastern Tibet.

Shigatse Airport

Shigatse Airport is Tibet’s fifth civilian airport, facilitating communication within the region. Located near Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, it offers convenient access to Mount Everest, Tashilhunpo Monastery, and other notable attractions in Shigatse. Travel time from Chengdu to Shigatse is just 2 hours and 20 minutes, while from Lhasa it takes only 30 minutes.

Ngari Airport

On July 1, 2010, Ngari officially opened its air navigation. Due to high altitude, thin air, and other weather conditions, flights to Ngari Gunsa Airport initially had reduced capacity. In the worst-case scenario, flights carried fewer than 30 passengers. Ngari is over 1,400 kilometres away from Lhasa. Even today, the fastest journey by road takes over 20 hours from Lhasa. However, after the airport opened, the travel time between Ngari and Lhasa was reduced to two hours. The local people now have a fast transportation option thanks to civil aviation. In the past 10 years, 55 passengers have been transported on stretchers during navigation.

Ngari Gunsa airport is situated on frozen ground in the northwest. To address the issue of frost heave during winter, a rolling net barbed circle fence is being introduced as a solution. This innovative technology tackles the challenge posed by the thawing boundary in summer.

Air traffic and Cargo delivery

Since the opening of air traffic, all five airports in Tibet have connected 60 cities with 120 routes, ensuring the safe take-off and landing of more than 400,000 flights, transporting more than 45 million passengers, and guaranteeing more than 500,000 tons of cargo. The perfect aviation network assists in entering and leaving Tibet more smoothly. Every day from dawn to late night, there are more than 140 flights and more than 15,000 passengers in the region, exit and enter from here.

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About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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