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Villagers see dreams take flight at airport

By ZOU SHUO in Changsha | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-10-06 07:41

A local woman presents an embroidered ribbon to a child at Xiangxi Biancheng Airport in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture in Hunan province on Aug 18. CHEN SIHAN/XINHUA

When the first flight from a new airport in Hunan province's Xiangxi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture took off for Beijing on Aug 18, it was a big day for 48-year-old Yang Chaowen.

Yang, from the prefecture's Shibadong village, had never flown before and it was also his first trip to the capital.

Yang, who traveled with his wife, said that thanks to the opening of Xiangxi Biancheng Airport, just 15 km from Shibadong, they could take the flight "right from their home".

"We were extremely excited to be able to take the first airplane from Xiangxi, and we feel proud and happy," he said.

Having an airport near home used to be unimaginable for the villagers, as the village was still mired in extreme poverty just a decade ago.

Nestled among the mountains of the prefecture, the airport is shaped like a phoenix spreading its wings. It covers 235 hectares and was built with a total investment of nearly 2.9 billion yuan ($401.8 million).

The terminal building covers 11,000 square meters, and the runway is 2,600 meters long, with five aircraft stands. The airport can handle aircraft such as Boeing 738s and Airbus A321s and was designed to handle 300,000 passengers a year, traveling on 3,571 departing and arriving aircraft.

Yang used to sell fruit and vegetables, but as the local infrastructure was very poor, a single trip to the township took more than two hours. Later, he went to the provinces of Guangdong and Zhejiang to find work.

After President Xi Jinping visited Shibadong in 2013 and put forward the concept of targeted poverty alleviation, Yang decided to return home.

He later opened a restaurant to cash in the tourism boom in the village, and said that thanks to the construction of infrastructure including parks, roads and parking lots and the renovation of buildings, local people could now find work near home.

Zhao Xin, the head of the airport's ground service, said the people of the prefecture were very enthusiastic about the airport, which has regular round-trip flights to just two cities — four a week to Beijing and three a week to Guangzhou in Guangdong.

"Every day, there are people from different places in Xiangxi coming to the airport to see flights, and if there are no flights during the time of their visits, they come to see the airport," Zhao said.

Most passengers coming to the airport were villagers taking airplanes for the first time as the airport was still not widely known to tourists from outside the prefecture, Zhao said.

"We plan to add two passenger flights by the end of this year, and also open freight flights in the future," he said. "Xiangxi boosts many famous scenic spots and the number of flights at the airport will increase considerably as more people learn about it."

Shi Qunfang, a 30-year-old villager, was another passenger flying for the first time on the Aug 18 flight to Beijing.

"Words could not describe how excited I was to take a flight to Beijing," she said.

Shi, who works as a tour guide in Shibadong, said she could make a living in her hometown while also taking care of her son and parents.

"In the past, we often said that we wanted to leave the mountains and see the bigger world, and now we can fly to see the world," she said. "We can even go to Beijing and return home on the same day. It is unimaginable."

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