“Once you enter into the valley, you have to be pretty sure that Lukla is visible from your own eyes.”
Lukla Tenzing-Hillary airport lies at an elevation of almost 9,300ft, and its small runways guarantee a risky landing. Its airstrip is 1,729 feet long and 98ft wide, whereas the shortest runway at JFK airport in New York is 8,400ft long and 200ft wide.
As a result, accidents are common and the difficult weather is often considered a factor. Since 2004, six airplanes have crashed en route to Lukla, half of which were fatal.
“Mountain flying is very unforgiving. There is little margin for error,” says Tara Air CEO Umesh C Rai.
“The plane takes off from Kathmandu but after 10 to 15 minutes, the weather in Lukla suddenly closes and there’s no visibility, or the tailwind has gone up beyond 10 knots.
Tara Air do close to 18 to 20 flights per day from Kathmandu during the tourist seasons, Rai says, but the window of operations at Lukla airport is small.
“Mountain pilots are absolutely crucial for Nepal,” he continues. “And Lukla is one of the final hurdles a pilot has to clear before he gets all approval.”
A pilot requires almost seven years of training before they can be cleared to fly around Lukla.
“In our country, where transportation is so difficult, getting people at remote areas and bring sick passengers, people who are in dire need of help: these things give you satisfaction.”
—This story was produced by NBC Left Field, which creates short, creative docs and features, all designed for social media and set-top boxes.
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