Tenzin-Hillary Airport, Lukla: One of the Most Dangerous Airports

by Abubakar Shoaib

Some airports in the world are considered very dangerous when it comes to the landing of a plane. Danger can be of many types, such as short runways on many Greek islands, regular wind shear in Gibraltar, and mountainous terrain surrounding airports like Innsbruck. These dangers create obvious risks. Airports at high altitudes create more risks than others due to low air pressure, which resists the handling of the plane. Tenzin-Hillary Airport in Lukla, Nepal, has all of these dangers.

Demographics of Lukla

Lukla’s altitude creates so much problem for the aircraft to land in the airport. The airport is surrounded by steep mountainous terrain. The steep runway is perched on little more than a mountain shelf. Air density is low at these altitudes and has a detrimental impact on the aircraft engine’s power. Low air resistance also makes it more challenging to slow the plane down. At high altitudes, longer runways are better.

Treklust Adventures

The runway of Tenzin-Hillary airport is just 1729 feet long. The runways of most of the international airports are more than 10000 feet long. Lukla’s runway is so short that it slopes uphill with almost a 12% gradient to help the plane slow down in time. There is little opportunity for a missed approach because of the high surrounding mountains. Once an aircraft starts its approach, it must touch down. Given these factors, only helicopters and small planes are allowed to land.

Weather of Lukla

The weather of the Himalayas is very unpredictable. Sudden snow, mist, and fog are always possible. The climate of Kathmandu is entirely different from Lukla despite a short flight time. The weather frequently changes while the plane is on its way. In such cases, the aircraft is turn around and return to Kathmandu. Most flights are scheduled for the early morning. Cancellations from Lukla are common.

Accidents in Lukla

Accidents in Lukla are in double-figure. Many of these are also caught on camera. The most notable incident occurred in 2008 when Yeti Airlines Flight 103 crashed into the mountain just before the landing. The pilot lost visual contact due to heavy fog. All 16 passengers and two of the three crew members were killed. The only survivor was the pilot. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Nepal has now set very high standards for pilots to land in Lukla. The pilot must have completed 100 short takeoffs and landing flights. The pilot must have one year of experience in Nepal and have completed ten flights into Lukla.

PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Plan of extending the runway and construction of new helipad is also underway. This will increase the passengers’ capacity.

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