Lukla Airport: The Most Dangerous Airport in the World?
Above the clouds you are on a flight to Lukla Airport possibly even after landing. Almost 3000 meters above sea level is the runway of probably the most famous airport in Nepal. Lukla Airport owes its fame mainly to its location: it is the closest airport to Mount Everest and is often considered the most dangerous airport in the world due to the difficult conditions in the Himalayas. But is this reputation justified? What makes flights to Lukla so special? And why might the trip to Lukla Airport still be worth it?
Lukla Airport at a Glance
Lukla Airport - officially the Tenzing-Hillary Airport after the first two climbers of Mount Everest - is about a 30-minute flight away from Nepal's capital Kathmandu. Lukla itself is a small town with no attractions worth mentioning, but it is the starting point for almost all expeditions to Mount Everest. Therefore, the small airport has an annual passenger volume of up to 150,000. The transport of goods to the region also takes place almost exclusively via Lukla Airport, since the surrounding villages in the high mountains cannot be reached via conventional roads.
Due to the steeply rising terrain, the only runway at Lukla Airport is just 527 meters long, making it one of the shortest runways in the world. By comparison, the runways at the airport in Frankfurt measure around 4000 meters. Accordingly, only small, so-called STOL aircraft (STOL: Short Take-Off and Landing) and helicopters can land at Lukla; there is no room for larger passenger aircraft or even an A380. To compensate for the short braking distance, the runway, which is often described as the most dangerous in the world, has a slope of 11.7%. Conversely, this also makes it easier for aircraft to take off.
Is Lukla Airport the most dangerous airport in the world?
Lukla Airport has gained dubious notoriety since the early 2000s, as reports often ranked the airport as the top most dangerous airport in the world. There are a number of reasons for this:
That the world's most dangerous airport should be located in Nepal is initially unsurprising. The extreme location in the heights of the Himalayan mountains makes both take-off and landing considerably more difficult. For example, there is steeply rising terrain at the end of the runway in Lukla, while it drops off very quickly in the direction of takeoff. The runway must therefore be hit or used perfectly.
No Abort Possible
Complicating the demands of the runway is the fact that at Lukla Airport, aborting a takeoff or landing maneuver is nearly impossible. The surrounding mountains do not provide enough space to allow another take-off and landing maneuver as at an ordinary airport. Potentially dangerous landings must therefore usually be carried out anyway once they have been started.
Due to its location in a valley in the high mountains, weather is also a frequent factor at Lukla Airport. Fast-moving clouds and fog, as well as frequent heavy rains during the monsoon season, significantly reduce visibility, complicating an already challenging approach.
Special security measures at Lukla Airport
While the famous airport in Nepal is dangerous, there are a number of measures in place to increase security at Lukla Airport:
Requirements for Pilots
The demands on people in the cockpit are high when approaching Tenzing-Hillary Airport, and the requirements before the first landing at Lukla are correspondingly extensive. Nepal's aviation authority stipulates that pilots must have already completed a total of at least 100 STOL flights, and one year of experience with STOL flights within Nepal is also required. After that, a minimum of ten flights to Lukla Airport itself must be completed under the supervision of a certified examiner. Only then are pilots allowed to land in Lukla independently.
Flying Only in Clear Visibility
While flying with instruments is not uncommon in aviation, Lukla Airport will be closed without warning should it not be possible to land under the so-called Visual Flight Rules (VFR). During the monsoon season, this leads to the regular cancellation of about 50% of the flights. There is also no air traffic after dark.
Early Morning Flights
Given the location in the narrow valley of Lukla, the wind also plays a crucial role. Early in the morning, this usually blows from the northeast, while later in the morning, the wind tends to blow from the southwest. Since the latter can be dangerous for air traffic at the most notorious of Nepal's airports, flights are usually scheduled for the early morning hours.
Sights near Luklas Airport: Mount Everest & Co.
Nepal's dangerous airfield near Mount Everest is a destination for hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, despite the risk. And the reason, of course, is the breathtaking Himalayan mountains.
The highest and undoubtedly the most famous mountain in the world is the destination for most passengers landing in Lukla. However, between Lukla Airport and Everest Base Camp there is still a walk of several days to be done.
Tip: If you are only interested in a good view of the highest mountain in the world, avoid the now overcrowded Everest Base Camp - from there you cannot see the summit at all due to the surrounding high mountains.
For a good view of Everest, all you need to do is hike from Lukla to the town of Namche Bazar. Namche Bazar offers accommodation and the highest Irish pub in the world.
Sagarmatha National Park
Even if Mount Everest is the most famous, the surrounding Sagarmatha National Park offers countless impressive mountain landscapes. Since the number of tourists on Mount Everest is now reaching problematic proportions, the not-so-popular routes are a recommendable alternative.
By the way: Due to the extreme altitudes in the Himalayas, even at the foot of the mountains, you should in no case arrive without altitude training and use the services of local guides.
The extensive tourist offer underlines it once again - despite the bad reputation, Lukla Airport is approached annually by numerous travel enthusiasts. Although there is a certain risk involved in traveling to the heights of the Himalayas and, accordingly, in flying to Lukla Airport, with good preparation and prudent behavior, the view of the most breathtaking peaks in the world awaits as a reward.
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