Most Americans, probably, don’t give much thought to the idea of ‘dangerous airports’. Americans trust airport security, in most cases; we place faith in the expertise of highly-trained air-traffic controllers; and we put confidence in the layout of commercial airport runways that we, assume, are fully adequate and have passed inspection to ensure any plane’s safe landing or take-off.
Though some airports in the US are known to be safer than others, if we look beyond our shores, we can find a number of airports that would create a paradigm shift, in terms of thinking ‘safety’, in the minds of most anyone. But there is one airport, in particular, that is worth mentioning, all on its own. This airport is so potentially dangerous and scarey, that if air passengers knew ahead of time what they encounter just before they reach the runway, they could very likely have second thoughts and choose an alternative flight destination.
Meet Lukla Airport in Nepal
Lukla is a very secluded community located high in the Northeastern corner of Nepal, within the Himalayas; and this location has the dubious distinction of owning THE most-dangerous airport in the world. Lukla Airport (aka: Tenzing-Hillary Airport) is one of the most extreme, according to the History Channel’s “Most Dangerous Airports in the World” category. Construction of this airport was completed in 1964; but the runway was not paved until 1971. The length of that runway is a mere 1,500 feet which possesses a 12% gradient, all, at an elevation of 9,383 feet. The stunning altitude qualifies Lukla as one of the highest airports in the world; and it serves as the gateway to Mt. Everest.
The Lukla Airport possesses a variety of eye-opening qualifiers which deem it as one of the most extreme airports, anywhere – so extreme, that most plane passengers would shudder at the thought of flying into this location – altitude, surrounding mountains, wind sheer, turbulence, low visibility, short runway, and unpredictable/constantly-changing weather combine as the ‘perfect storm’ for potential disaster. In fact, as of October of 2016, there had been five crashes within the previous five years.
Unaware passengers who have never flown into Lukla Airport, begin to wonder where in the world the plane will land; and once the runway comes into view within the mountainous terrain, hearts can stop and sweat glands can work overtime as the plane approaches a runway that is, actually, uphill! The uphill slope serves a genuine purpose, however, since it helps to slow down the plane’s landing speed.
Once any outgoing plane lifts, just before it reaches the end of the runway, passengers who might be brave enough to peek out their plane’s windows, would quickly notice a breathtaking 2,000-foot drop into the valley, below!
As would be expected, extreme precision and overflowing caution are constant bedfellows for any pilot who flies in and out of here. Even expert pilots who have never flown into the Lukla Airport are not allowed to fly into this locale without, first, being fully trained and acclimated to the airport’s unique features, via the company of a seasoned instructor.
Build It And They Will Come
Interestingly, during the high season, in October, almost 500 daring passengers make daily treks into this unique locale, near the top of the world. Perhaps these passengers are not aware that the approach into Lukla is truly, dangerous, due to the decreased horsepower of any plane, thanks to the high altitude. This means that once a landing attempt has been determined, there are no second chances or ‘do-overs’.
Equally interesting, the runway is used by local residents as a shortcut towards town; and when an airport siren sounds, locals know that an approaching plane is eminent; and pedestrians exiting the runway is mandatory, NOW!
Build It And They Will Prosper
At Lukla, one will not find vehicles or machines of any kind – only those that fly the skies into and out of this almost magical place where time continues to stand still. Residents, here, have never seen a physical car of any kind, which goes hand-in-hand with the fact that Lukla does not even have any paved roads!
Thanks to Lukla Airport, natives of this area enjoy luxuries that are flown in by plane or helicopter – luxuries that local residents would, otherwise, not have access to: rice, medicines, school books and supplies, building materials including tin roofs, etc. Almost every home in Lukla is covered with tin roofs – again, thanks to the Lukla airport which allows for incoming products and produce to enhance the lives for families who call Lukla, home.