"Shigatse Peace Airport", the fifth civil airport in Tibet at an elevation of 3,782m. Photo: File

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Dharamshala, India — Chinese authorities have seized farmland in southern Tibet to build an airport, displacing Tibetan villagers and offering far less in compensation than the land is worth. The new airport opened last last year, marking the launching of the 5th civil airport in Tibet.

The land, belonging to Yushang village in the Chusha municipality of Shigatse (Ch: Xigaze) prefecture’s Lhatse county, was targeted for so-called 'development' according to a plan announced in January 2018 by officials in the prefecture and 'the Tibet Autonomous Region', sources said.

“For Tibetans in Chusha, farming has been their main source of livelihood for many years, and is a tradition handed down to them by their ancestors,” the source said, adding that, “The loss of so much land to Chinese development projects is having a negative impact on the daily life of the local people.”

“Now Chinese authorities are planning to build an airport on [Chusha’s] farmland, and local Tibetans are being compensated at rates less than the land’s market value,” it said.

Chinese projects have already been under way on vast stretches of land lying near Lhatse county, with new buildings being constructed, for more than a decade, the source said.

“But there is now a promise of new airports and railway stations in all these areas, and these will form a hub of activities for tourists and transportation links in all directions,” it added.

According to other sources, "Xigaze Peace Airport", built near the world's tallest peak Mount Everest in Shigatse Tibet, is located 3,783 meters above sea level. It will supplement the existing Lhasa, Nyingchi, Qamdo and Ngari airports. The terminal, about 4,500 square meters, is expected to handle 230,000 passengers and 1,150 tons of cargo each year by 2020.

Shigatse is located 250km from Lhasa, capital of Tibet and Chinese statement-run media says it normally takes 3-4 hours to get there due to "poor road conditions". Flights now only take 2.3 hours from Chengdu to Shigatse and 30 minutes from Lhasa to Shigatse.

According to the state-run media, the construction of Shigatse Peace Airport was started in 1968 and the trial flight was operated in 1973 after completion of the final auxiliary projects. But the airport hadn’t opened to the public for a longtime.

China’s construction of airports and other development projects in Tibet have done little to lift Tibetans out of poverty and serve mainly to consolidate China’s presence on the Tibetan plateau, according to a researcher at the Dharamsala, Dharamshala India-based 'Tibet Policy Institute'.

“Tibetans who are the owners of the land draw little benefit from these,” the Institute researcher Rinzin Dorjee said in a 2016 paper, “China’s Transport and Infrastructural Build-Up in Tibet. Primarily, the infrastructure build-up in Tibet is unilaterally decided and imposed by Beijing without the consent of or consultation with the Tibetan people.”

The airport terminal area is 4,502 square meters and the length of airstrip is 5,000 meters (16,404ft). There are totally three parking aprons, where Airbus A319 and Boeing 737 and other airliners can take off and land. Situated at an elevation of 3,782m above sea level, planes of Shigatse Airport need to fly under very tough geographical conditions: thin air and fickle weather. Besides, the shortage of navigation facilities on the ground has great influence on traditional flight routine.