You guys probably know Lukla as the World’s Most Dangerous Airport. However, before you lump the poor kid with the likes of Pablo Escobar, here are a few stories you might want to consider. Perhaps, you will understand why Lukla Airport grew up to be the bad boy that it is right now.
Yes, as a kid, Lukla Airport received its fair share of stamping from people drunk on rice beer. Do not believe us? Here is an excerpt from Sir Ed Hillary’s biography View from the Summit in which he relates how Lukla Airport was constructed:
“The first Pilatus Porter flight was fast approaching, but I was still not entirely happy with the top surface of the field, which was rather soft. I decided to use a simple but practical method to improve this. Sherpa dancing is very vigorous and involves much stamping of the feet. We purchased large quantities of chang [rice beer] and then employed fifty Sherpas to link arms and stamp their way backwards and forwards across the field. A very festive mood prevailed and the earth received a most resounding thumping. Two days of this rather reduced the Sherpas’ enthusiasm for the dance but produced a firm and smooth surface for our airfield. The strip was 1,150 feet long and 100 feet wide and was clearly marked by white painted boards. Altogether I had paid out just over $2,000 for land and labour.”
No wonder Lukla Airport developed severe psychological issues later in life. Here is what Lukla Airport used to be like back in the days:
Being Picked on for No-Fault of its Own
Poor Lukla Airport is notorious for cancellations and delays. But is it just Lukla Airport’s fault? Most people tend to agree. But in the 2019 Spring trekking season (March, April and May) , there were very few cancellations and minor delays. The reason? Most flights to Lukla during that time happened, not from Kathmandu Airport, but from Manthali Airport at Ramechhap.
As Nepali Times (from which we got the flightradar screenshot above) notes, “Kathmandu handles more than 400 flights a day on its single runway, but on smoggy winter mornings like this week, tiny Twin Otters are forced to circle alongside big international flights waiting to land. A 35 minute Kathmandu flight from Lukla can last 1.5 hours, reducing the number of Lukla ferries before the mid-morning tail wind closes the airfield.”
Hence, while there are issues with mountain weather at Lukla Airport, the most crucial reason for the delays was actually Tribhuvan International Airport!! After being picked on for years for no fault of its own, is it any surprise that Lukla Airport is now the World’s Most Dangerous Airport?
When you have your back against the wall…..
Lukla Airport literally has its back against a wall and a mountain wall at that. This means aircraft can only approach the airport from one way, and they only get one shot to make the landing. There are no second chances!! But you already knew that. Here is what you probably didn’t know.
There is one dude who has reportedly landed an aircraft in Lukla not the usual way but from the mountainside, downhill!! Stan Armington, in Traveler’s Tales Nepal, relates a conversation with Captain Emil Wick:
“By this time we were passing high above Lukla, the notorious airstrip that serves the Everest Region. It has a one-way runway, with a ten-degree uphill slope and a mountain wall at the end. Emil told me about the time he had landed at Lukla the other way, lining up with the runway just in from of the mountain and landing downhill. As he made his abbreviated final approach, the entire village came running out. “They thought I was going to crash, for sure.”
We aren’t sure whether this actually happened or how it must have impacted Lukla Airport.
But Lukla Airport still maintains its sense of humor
Guess what? Landing big jets in Lukla is apparently a thing these days. Don’t believe us? Check out the following video for some entertaining commentary:
If you liked this one, there are a lot more videos of these kinds in youtube!!
So, Is Lukla Airport Really the World’s Most Dangerous Airport?
Well given the topography, weather, location, size of the airport and the volume of traffic, Lukla could very well be one of the most dangerous airports in the world. But then with 55 fatalities between 2003 and 2018, and 1,448,251 passengers carried in the same period, your chances of dying are 1 out of 26,331.
To put that in perspective, your one-year odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident in the United States is 1 out of 8,096!! Additionally, if you take Lukla flight as a once in a lifetime thing, the odds for Lukla look even better. The lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident in the US is at an astounding 1 out of 103! Sure that is not a legit comparison, but you get the point.
And given that the pilots who fly the little tin cans on this route are experienced old hands (just check out their swag and shades) and that the airport closes down at the first sign of trouble, you can Keep Calm, Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the beautiful Mountain Views.