Dunhuang to build international airport

Xinhua News, Oct 19, 2006

Gansu Province, China -- Dunhuang in northwest China's Gansu Province is planning to build an international airport because the number of overseas tourists flocking in to see the ancient Buddhist cave paintings is growing by 30 percent annually.

<< A painting in one of Dunhuang's famed grottoes, a popular destination for Buddhist tourists

The new airport will first open to international charter flights to and from Hong Kong, Osaka and Seoul, said Feng Shiping, head of Dunhuang's Commerce Bureau.

About 370 charter flights will fly these three routes in the peak travel seasons between late April and mid October each year. He said, "China Southern Airlines, Air China and Hainan Airlines will be operating these flights."

Dunhuang received 79,000 international tourist arrivals last year. The figure totaled 71,000 in the first nine months of this year, according to the local tourism administration.

More than 60 percent of the international tourists are from Japan, the Republic of Korea and southeast Asian nations, it said.

Without an international airport in Dunhuang, overseas tourists have to fly to Zhongchuan Airport in the provincial capital Lanzhou, more than 1,000 kilometers away.

Hainan Airlines, based in the southernmost island province of Hainan, has vowed to assist the airport expansion project and further tap Dunhuang's tourism market, particularly in the slack seasons of winter and early spring, Feng said, quoting Chen Feng, president of Hainan Airlines Group.

The five-million-yuan (625,000 U.S. dollars) project has been endorsed by the Gansu Provincial government and the city is waiting for the green light from Beijing before construction begins, Feng said.

"Construction won't take long," he said. "We'll just expand the existing airport and build extra quarantine and inspection checkpoints."

Dunhuang airport was opened in 1982. After being expanded in 2002, it can handle 300,000 passengers and 3,400 tons of cargo each year.

Dunhuang became a major market on the historic Silk Road in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and is home to more than 800 grottoes at least 1,600 years old. The Mogao Grottoes, known as the Thousand Buddha Caves, were added to the World Heritage List in 1987.