After arriving in Islamabad from Dubai on PIA B777-200/LR, the next day I flew to Skardu in the Northern area of Pakistan.
This is one of the most scenic and exciting flight in Pakistan. Captain Majid Akhter from PIA gave a quick briefing on the ATR-42-500 flight. This flight was also Captain Saqeeb Hamid's training and familiarization flight to Northern Area.
The flight is strictly under VFR (visual flight rules). Watch the video for the flight briefing.
Soon after take off from Islamabad, the plane flies directly over the mountains of Northern Areas of Pakistan.
It was a clear winter day of flying. The passengers are treated to a ‘one of a kind’ experience – a sky dance of the Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges which include some of the highest peaks in the world. You can see Nanga Parbat (8,125m), Rakaposhi (7,788m) and above all, the spectacular K-2 (the second highest peak in the world) towering above all others at 8,611 meters.
Flight time was 1 hour, cruising at 19,500 ft. A quick snack and drink were served onboard.
The approach into Skardu was very tricky and no turning back once past the “decision point”. Pilot need to perform a “Z” shaped bend call Zulu Bend, flying between a few mountain peak before the Skardu valley appears.
Skardu airport is situated in the valley surrounded by tall mountains, the area itself is a cold desert. The altitude at the airport is around 7,400 feet.
Watch the full landing on my video:
Skardu airport has recently upgraded to international airport status. They’re constructing a 6km new runway with instrument aide adjacent to the current runway.
After landing, I was given a quick tour to ShangriLa resort in Skardu. Check out the scenery and environment of Skardu. It is a hidden gem to the world and has huge potential for tourism. Unfortunately, the locals told me they only receive 5-6 hours of electricity supply in the winter. The infrastructure presents a major challenge in this remote part of the world.
After a quick tour, we rushed back to the airport and catch the A320 flight back to Islamabad. It is the winter season there were hardly any inbound tourists but the return flight from Skardu is full. PIA ran 3 flights that day.
Flights to/from Skardu are completely based on the merci of the weather god. Since Jan 1, it has been 8 days of bad weather which means no flight was operated to Skardu.
Passengers get bused to the remote ramp for boarding. We also walked across the new runway which is almost complete.
I flew PIA A320 on my way back. We flew past all the tall mountains with a clear view from the cockpit. It is truly the Air Safari.
ATR-42 vs A320, which flight is better?
Both flights offer spectacular scenery, almost guaranteed. The ATR-42 flight cruise at 19,500 feet which is just barely above the mountain peaks, you're much closer to the mountains. Flight time on the ATR is slightly longer.
The A320 flight cruise at 28,500 feet on the way back from Skardu to Islamabad provides a wider perspective to look at all the mountains and surroundings. Flight time was 45 minutes only. I'd recommend experiencing both flights one way on each type. The scenery and hospitality is out of this world!