Tibet Airlines is based in the mountainous region at its high altitude capital city Lhasa and in fact is the first airline to be based directly in Tibet. It gained regulatory approval from the CAAC in March 2010 and signed a commitment with Airbus for three A319s configured in a 128 seat two class arrangement. Airbus has quite a lot of experience operating its aircraft in high altitude environments (Druk Air of neigbouring Bhutan for example use A319s) so the Airbus product was a natural fit for Tibet. In addition A319s had been operating to and from Lhasa for over six years already by 2010.
Operations of the new airline did not begin until July 26, 2011 with the assistance of Air China (who own a 31% stake). The first route was to the dual use military/civil airport at remote Ngari Gunsa Airport, which serves Shiquanhe (Ali) an important pilgrimage site for Hindus, Buddhists, Bonpa and Jains near the Indian border. As well as flying from its homebase of Lhasa Gonggar Airport Tibet Airlines has also started mini-hub operations at Chengdu and Chongqing which as well as connecting to Tibet also serve destinations such as Sanya, Haikou, Hangzhou and Zhengzhou.
Durings its first year of operations Tibet Airlines carried 375,000 passengers with its by then 3 A319s. As further aircraft have arrived services have expanded to destinations such as Nanjing, Shenzhen and Xiamen from Lhasa usually via an intermediary stop at Chengdu, Xining or Guiyang. By June 2013 eight A319s were in the fleet. For the year of 2013 Tibet Airlines passenger numbers grew to 1.1 million.
In April 2014 Tibet Airlines added its first sharklet equipped A319-115, B-6451, to its fleet joining the eight existing standard A319s. She was handed over at the Airbus Tianjin Delivery Centre on April 12 and is the 165th Airbus assembled at the facility. Tibet Airlines has impressive growth plans with a 48% passenger growth in February 2014 alone and plans for 50 aircraft by 2019. The first international services, to Kathmandu, were begun in mid-2014 and in October 2014 the Lhasa-Beijing route was opened.
By April 2015 the fleet stood at 12 A319s and in July the airline's first A320 arrived. The airline is the number one carrier in terms of aircraft movements in Tibet and number two in terms of passengers and with the support of both Air China and the Chinese government it has a strong future ahead of it serving the roof of the world.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: