Lukla, Nepal - The World's most dangerous airport
Tenzing-Hillary Airport (IATA: LUA, ICAO: VNLK), also known as Lukla Airport, is a small airport in the town of Lukla in Khumbu, Solukhumbu district, Sagarmatha zone, eastern Nepal. In January 2008, the airport was renamed in honor of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the first persons to reach the summit of Mount Everest and also to mark their efforts in the construction of this airport.
The surrounding terrain, thin air, highly changeable weather and the airport's short, sloping runway make it one of the most challenging landings in the world. It is widely considered one of the most extreme and dangerous airport in the World since accidents and incidents happened frequently.
The airport is popular since Lukla is the place where most people start their climb of Mount Everest. There are a dozen daily flights between Lukla and Kathmandu during daylight hours with good weather. Although the flying distance is short, rain commonly occurs in Lukla while the sun is shining brightly in Kathmandu. High winds, cloud cover and changing visibility often mean flights can be delayed or the airport closed completely.
The operation hours of the airport varied due to the mountain weather. On a sunny day during peak mountain climbing season, flights to and from Kathmandu can run as long as from 6:30am to 4pm. During bad weather and low visibility days, flight could be halted for days where most of the travellers are left behind in hostels waiting.
The airport's paved asphalt runway is only accessible to helicopters and small fixed-wing short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) aircraft such as the De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter or Dornier Do 228. The single runway 06/24 is 1,500 feet (460 m) long, 65 feet (20 m) wide and has a 12% gradient. The altitude of the airport is 9,100 feet (2,800 m).
Aircraft use runway 06 only for landings and runway 24 only for takeoffs. Due to the terrain, there is no prospect of a successful go-around on short final. There is high terrain immediately after the northern end of the runway and a steeply angled drop of about 2,000 feet (610 m) at the southern end of the runway into the valley below. There are no taxiways so it is a common sight aircraft backtrack to the top of runway 24 for takeoff.
Recent Incidents and Accidents
- On 30 June 2005, a Gorkha Airlines Dornier Do 228 skidded off the runway while attempting to land. The nine passengers and three crew suffered minor injuries. The aircraft was reportedly withdrawn from use and written off after the accident.
- On 8 October 2008, Yeti Airlines Flight 103, a DHC-6 Twin Otter, crashed on final approach and caught fire, killing eighteen passengers and crew. The aircraft's captain was the only survivor.
- On 25 August 2010, Agni Air Flight 101 crashed at Shikharpur while returning to Kathmandu after bad weather had prevented it from reaching Lukla. All eleven passengers and three crew perished.
- On 12 October 2010, a Sita Air Dornier Do 228 lost braking control and impacted the wall-end of the runway during landing. All passengers and crew on board survived without injuries and the aircraft received damage to its nose. The aircraft nose is covered in black and still remain at Lukla during author’s visit.
For aircraft enthusiasts, there are many opportunities to view aircraft takeoff and landing. The airfield is simply surrounded by the town. One interesting fact to note is there are absolute no cars in Lukla! One has to walk to everywhere in Lukla! A large crowd of Sherpa and guides gather at the airport every morning to offer their assistance to carry baggage for the arriving tourist. The view from above runway 24 is probably the best for all runway action. This location can be reached with a gentle 3 minutes of climbing from the left of the terminal. Another excellent viewing spot is in Hostel la villa Sherpani which located adjacent to the downward sloping runway. You can view arriving and departing aircraft just a few metres from the end of the short runway there. Although security has its presence, they are generally very friendly towards visitor, as most people from Nepal would. There are no reported problems of taking pictures of aircraft around.
Hope you enjoyed the photography. Let me know if you agree/disagree this being the World's most dangerous airport?