LHASA, July 12 (Xinhua) -- Chenre Yeshe is one of nine children in a herder's family living the suburbs of Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Her new job as helicopter pilot makes her hometown proud.
"Once I flew a helicopter back to Damshung County, and my fellow villagers said I was like a fairy flying in the blue sky, and that I was the pride of Damshung," said Chenre Yeshe, 21.
Chenre Yeshe is the first woman pilot in the Lhasa Snow Eagle General Aviation Company, a joint venture founded by the Lhasa city government and Ruoer General Aviation Development Group (Ruohang), based in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province. As a well-paid job, the profession is very competitive among students.
The company plans to have 32 helicopters in Tibet for tourism, emergency aid and environmental patrols. In the long term, it plans to have 200.
For the first batch, the company recruited 28 students, including 16 girls from vocational schools and universities. All are from poor families. The candidates were trained in Suzhou City, also in Jiangsu, which is about 4,000 kilometers away from Lhasa.
"So far 15 pilots and maintenance workers have finished training and started work," said Lyu Yong, company chairman of Ruohang. "When my company started operation in Lhasa, we told recruit pilots from impoverished families that training for them was free."
Hu Hong, vice mayor of Nanjing, was dispatched to work in Lhasa in 2015. It was Hu who advised the company to establish operation in Tibet.
"The purpose is to train local people to become pilots and seize the opportunities of booming tourism. The company also hires herders to collect meteorological information, which is also a source of increasing income for the herders," he said.
Chenre Yeshe studied in a vocational school in Lhasa before being admitted to the pilot training program. "Forty of my classmates applied, and I was the only one who qualified," she said.
Yeshe started to work when she was in middle school. "I earned 50 yuan a day carrying stones for road construction. When I went to ask for a job, they said I was too young and weak. I begged the boss to let me try for a day without needing to pay me and I eventually got my part-time job, " she said.
Now Yeshe earns 14,600 yuan (about 2,179 U.S. dollars) per month. She only keeps 600 yuan and hands the rest to her parents.
"About 15 years ago, my elder sister had good marks in the college test, and was admitted to university, but my mother was sick and needed money for surgery, so my sister gave up university and worked odd jobs in Lhasa. I'm glad to be of help to my family now," she said. "My trainer took me up in the plane for the first time on Valentine's Day last year, I was so excited and can never forget the day."
Chenre Yeshe's colleague, 24-year-old Gyatso, graduated from Tibet University. "I dreamt of becoming a pilot when I was young. When I graduated, I planned to become a computer teacher, but then this opportunity came, and I was ecstatic that I could pursue my dreams," he said. "Mr Lyu did not think I could become a good pilot, so I went to him a couple of times to tell him how much I wanted to become one. He finally gave me the offer."
Among Snow Eagle's new employees is Baima Yangzom, who grew up in an orphanage in Lhasa. She lost part of a finger when helping her grandmother with farm work when she was little. "It is so sad I could not become a pilot, but working in ground maintenance is good enough," she said.
Snow Eagle started operation in April this year. So far, its helicopters have made 4,000 trips on the plateau. Lyu expects a total of 30,000 trips this year.
Starting from mid-July, they will recruit a second batch of pilots, in Shannan City.
Ren Wenming, a tourist, took his wife for a helicopter tour over Lhasa in a helicopter. "The promotional price for the trip was only 660 yuan, very worth it, and the scenery is beautiful," he said.