Is Lukla Airport Safe to Fly
Lukla Airport is also known as Tenzing Hillary Airport. It is a domestic airport located at the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality in Solukhumbu District of Province No. 1. It is a worldwide famous airport because it is among the most dangerous airport in the world. It has an elevation of 2,846 m /9337 feet above sea level. The airport was inaugurated in September 1971.
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The Flight to Lukla
The flights to Lukla Airport begin from the domestic terminal of Tribhuvan International Airport at Kathmandu. It is one of the thrilling experiences on board. The 30 minutes flight starts after completing all the formalities including check-in. After a few minutes of taking off from Kathmandu airport, the flight leaves Kathmandu valley and on the left side of the aircraft, the Himalayas appear. Throughout the flight, you will be rewarded with a scenic Mountain View.
Your journey to Everest has now officially begun with a spectacular flight to Lukla. During the flight, the views of Langtang and the Rolwaling mountain range are breathtaking. The 30 minutes on board the flight could be the longest 30 minutes of their life for many people. Soon a village perched at the hill appears out of the blue and as the pilot orients the flight towards it, a track comes visible and you realize that’s the RUNWAY where you will land in the next minute. On the approach of the runway there is a sheer drop of 2000 ft and at the end of the runway is a huge wall. The pilot carefully aligns the flight with the runway path and soon the flight hits the tarmac of Lukla airport. You have now landed at Lukla airport.
About Lukla Airport
Lukla airport known as Tenzing Hillary Airport is situated at an elevation of 2,846 m / 9337 feet above sea level at Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality of Solukhumbu District, Nepal. It is known as a gateway to the Everest region, the world-famous tourist destination. The airport was built in 1971 with the help of Sir Edmund Hillary. Lukla airport is the busiest STOL airport in Nepal. During peak season time, an average of 30 flights is conducted every day.
Geography of Lukla Airport
Lukla Airport is one of the most dangerous airports in the world. It is located at a high altitude. The locale of the air station is surrounded by mountains from all sides. The geography of the region is itself inhospitable because the topography and the weather of the locality are too much drama.
Lukla Airport or Tenzing Hillary Airport sits on the side of a mountain with a confining nature of the terrain surrounded by mountains. The runway is 527m/1729 feet long with a 12% gradient to slow down landing aircraft and gives a speed boost to aircraft taking off. There is a 2000 feet sheer drop at the end of a runway during take-off and a high terrain immediately at the end of a runway during landing. The airport has only a parking capacity of 4 aircraft.
Lukla Airport Weather
The service of the Lukla Airport highly depends upon the condition of the weather. Lukla is located at a very high altitude. Thus, the weather deteriorates very quickly. Overall, Lukla has dramatic and unpredictable weather. Sudden mist, fog, rainstorms, or snow are always possible.
All Lukla flights are scheduled very early starting at 6:00 am as the clouds start to build up during the afternoon. While the rain clouds come into play in monsoon, wind and thunderstorms are common during spring afternoons. Winters have better visibility in Lukla, but fog in Kathmandu can impact flights sometimes. And as the weather turns bad, Lukla Airport can shut down in a matter of minutes affecting the flights.
Despite the short distance and short flight-time, the weather in Lukla can often be completely different from Kathmandu and frequently changes while the airplane is on its way. In such circumstances, planes turn around and return to Kathmandu. Cancellations from Lukla are common.
Pilots of Lukla Airport
Lukla or the Tenzing Hillary Airport is the most dangerous in the world. It is landing and take-off that makes it dangerous. The runway of the airport is only about 500 m which is about half the length of the normal runways. Due to its short runway, confine terrain of the airport and a sheer drop of 2000 feet at the approach of the runway, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has set a high standard for pilots flying to Lukla. The pilots must have completed at least 100 STOL missions, have over one year of flying experience into STOL sectors of Nepal, and completed 10 flights to Lukla with a certified instructor pilot. The pilots operating Lukla flights are highly skilled.
The flights to Lukla are operated throughout the year. During the peak season, you might get more options as well. Generally, three main airlines run this route frequently – Tara Air / Yeti Airlines, Summit Air, and Sita Air. These airlines operate small aircrafts such as Dornier Do 228 and DHC-6 Twin Otter, which hold around 15 or so passengers.
Only STOL aircraft and helicopters can only land at Lukla. The aircrafts used in the Lukla sector are Twin Otter, Dornier, L-410 turbulent, and Pilatus Turbo Porter aircraft. Lukla airport has the busiest helipad in Nepal conducting sightseeing flights, passenger flights, and rescue flights. During the peak tourist season, there are helicopters on standby at Lukla airport for emergency purposes.
It is wise to book your flight ticket in advance.
Alternate of Lukla Airport
There are many other alternatives to reach Everest Region. The most genuine way is to trek via Jiri. It takes nearly three weeks to reach the Everest Base Camp through Jiri. For those who want to avoid the Lukla flight and yet want to embark on a journey to Everest. They can choose to drive to either Jiri or Phaplu. From here you will need to trek for 3-4 days to reach Lukla. The flight is only 30 minutes but if you choose to avoid the flight is prepared for 12 hrs drive and a 3-4 days trek to reach Lukla.
If this also does not fit your requirement, you can charter a helicopter flight to Lukla. A helicopter is considered generally safer as compared to airplanes due to its maneuvering capability and low visibility requirement. You can either charter a helicopter to Lukla which will cost USD 2500-USD 3000 per flight or join the flight on sharing basis which can cost from USD 400-USD 800 depending on the number of passengers on board the helicopter flight. The helicopter can take 5 passengers at one time to Lukla.
Updates on Lukla Flights
As of April 2019, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has directed all the airlines to operate the Lukla flight from Ramechap airport instead of Kathmandu airport. This new change has been made to avoid traffic congestion at Kathmandu airport. Kathmandu airport is the only international airport in Nepal and has only one runway, which is used by both international and domestic flights. Due to the high number of flights on Lukla, all Lukla flights during peak season period (Apr-May and Oct-Nov) are operated from Ramechap airport. The flight is only 12 minutes from Ramechap airport and also the chances of flight cancellation due to poor weather are very slim. From Kathmandu, it takes around 4 hrs. drive to reach Rameechaap. However, if the number of flights is low then the airlines may operate the flights directly from Kathmandu too.
Should one be Afraid of Flying to Lukla?
Lukla airport is consistently present on the list of most dangerous airports in the world. However, this is just a statistic and reputation. Overall, it is safe to fly here. The airport is scandalous due to its geographic placement, scarce electricity, poor records of safety flights, and air companies blacklisted by the European Union. The ever-changing weather conditions in the mountains, surrounding landscape, thin oxygen, and a short, sharp runway at the edge of a huge cliff make landings here highly challenging.
Incidents and accidents occasionally occur, or at least it used to be for quite a while. During the season time, there are about 30 flights every day on average with nearly 400-500 tourists arriving and departing. Annually over 30,000 trekkers and climbers enter the Everest region. The airport has also stepped up extra measures to prevent any accidents. Landing in bad weather conditions is strictly restricted. The runway at Lukla airport has been installed with the approach lighting system. While the Lukla airport has several incidents as compared to other airports, the accident ratio is very low and we can consider it pretty safe to fly. Last, the pilots operating Lukla flights are considered among the best.
Things to Consider for Lukla Flights
- Get a left-side seat for mountain views if you are flying to Lukla from Kathmandu and a right-side seat for Lukla to Kathmandu flight.
- In some aircraft, if you have your seat in the middle, the wing might obstruct some of the views. So, it is wise not to take a seat from the middle.
- The average cost for a one-way flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is USD 180, meaning a round trip will cost around USD 360.
- During the peak season period which is from April to May and Oct to Nov, Lukla flights are operated from Ramechap airport to reduce the traffic congestion at Kathmandu airport. Be prepared for 4 hours’ drive.
- Check with your travel company if you are flying from Ramechap airport or Kathmandu airport.
- The check-in time is 1 hour before the flight time so if your flight is scheduled for 6:15 am then you should reach the airport by 5:15 am.
- The baggage limit on the flight is only 15 kgs per passenger and any excess weight will cost USD 1 per kg.
- Take your flights as early in the morning as possible because the chances of flight cancellation will be high during the day.
- Be sure to spare a day at the beginning and end of your trek just in case one of your flight legs does get canceled.
- It is just 85 miles or 136 Km far from Kathmandu and it takes around 30 minutes to reach Lukla from Kathmandu.