World's new highest airport will service 'the last Shangri-la'

World's new highest airport will service 'the last Shangri-la'

When Daocheng Yading Airport opens in 2013, it will bring modern tourism to one of the most unspoiled parts of Asia
Red grassland. Pictures from Yading require no Photoshopping.

Following the completion of a successful test flight on Friday, Chinese officials have announced that the world’s highest airport, Daocheng Yading Airport in southwest Sichuan, will open for operation in May 2013.

The test flight was conducted by Air China, the country's national carrier. The airline's Airbus A319 took off at 6 a.m. from Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, and arrived at Daocheng at 7:30 a.m.

At an elevation of 4,411 meters, Daocheng Yading Airport is 77 meters higher than current highest-elevation titleholder, Qamdo Bamda Airport in Tibet.

Daocheng has a 4,200-meter runway and four aprons.

According to a press release from Sichuan's tourism office (link in Chinese only), Air China will begin offering flights between Chengdu and Daocheng when the airport opens in May.

More routes to and from Daocheng are being considered, including flights linking the airport with Chongqing, Kunming, Guiyang and Xi'an, according to an earlier report by Xinhua News.

More on CNN: World's most 'thrilling' airports, where thrilling = terrifying

Twenty-first-century tourism comes to remote area

The forbidding bus journey betweem Chengdu and Daocheng takes two days. The new airport will ease a lot of tourist pain.

The airport's opening should come as welcome news for travelers who have been deterred by, or suffered with, the challenging two-day bus ride from Chengdu to Daocheng, one of the few transportation options currently available.

It's hoped that the airport will bring 500,000 tourists to the area.

Daocheng is a county within Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It's famed for the well preserved scenery of Yading Nature Reserve Park, an area so beautiful that it's sometimes called “the last Shangri-la.” 

Attractions in the 1,344-square-kilometer park include three holy snow-capped mountains revered by Tibetan pilgrims, three holy lakes and a red grassland.

The new airport will be located 130 kilometers from the park. 

Daocheng Yading Airport will be able to hold onto its "highest elevation" title for only a short time.

Construction of a new, higher airport is scheduled to be completed in 2015 in Nagqu, a Tibetan county 325 kilometers northeast of Lhasa. That airport will be located at 4,436 meters, 25 meters higher than Daocheng.

More on CNN: The world's record-breaking airports

Hiufu Wong is CNN Travel's staff writer.

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