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Flying into Lukla, Nepal - a gateway to Ascending Mt Everest


The Tenzing–Hillary Airport (ICAO: VNLK), also known as Lukla Airport in Nepal, is the starting point for treks to Mount Everest Base Camp. Lukla is at 9,383 ft (2,860 m), so climbers must ascend 19,648 ft to reach Mt. Everest peak at 29,031 ft ( 8,848 m) ! The mountain encounters the jet stream, so climbers can be hit with winds at 200 mph ( 320 km/h ).

Below is a map showing the distance from Lukla airport to Everest Base Camp and then to Mt. Everest.

Map data © Google 2021

There are no roads to Lukla and therefore the only way to transport large or heavy goods is by airplane.

There are daily flights between Lukla and Kathmandu during daylight hours in 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 is closed.

Below is a screenshot of generated clouds and lighting from the flight simulator.

© 2021 Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft Flight Simulator product screen shots reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

There is a rock wall at the northern end of the runway and a cliff at the southern end of the runway into the valley below. Also, a go-around will be tricky, and the decision will need to be made early!

© Creative Commons: CC BY-SA 4.0

This airport is a great challenge for pilots (at least for me!) Winds can be shifty and treacherous, and in the flight simulator there is always a strong downdraft just before the runway. Also, the runaway is not level, but has a 12% up-slope.

© Creative Commons: CC BY-SA 4.0

Due to the difficulties of successfully landing at this airport, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal sets high standards for pilots to be allowed to land here:

Below is a photo of the aircraft terminal parking area, looking north:

© Creative Commons: CC BY-SA 4.0

Here is the same area as rendered in the flight sim (winter season):


The aircraft I enjoyed flying into Lukla, starting out from the lower elevation cities in Nepal, like Kathmandu, is the Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander. However, the aircraft usually operated in Lukla is the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter turboprop.

Below is my landing attempt - the winds were very active!

And here is how the pros land at Lukla...

© You Tube

After more practice, getting the vertical approach closer to the end of the runway at 9,200 feet, and by keeping the power higher with half flaps, I did better:

This video was edited with OpenShot , a free video open source editor.

The OpenShot UI:


The Islander is a lighter utility aircraft and regional airliner, and it is currently in production as both piston and turboprop versions. The Islander is one of the best-selling commercial aircraft types produced in Europe.

Although designed in the 1960s, over 750 are still in service with commercial operators around the world.

The Islander is a high-wing cantilever monoplane with a rectangular fuselage and two wing-mounted engines. The aircraft has fixed tricycle landing gear, and accommodates a single pilot and up to nine passengers in a commuter configuration. However, the cabin can also be rapidly reconfigured, allowing for a single aircraft to perform different tasks such as transport of cargo, or food, or medical supplies and staff.

Often referred to as "the world's most versatile aircraft," the Britten-Norman company promotes the Islander's low direct operating costs, minimal maintenance, and its stability in flight as benefits of the aircraft

Below is a screenshot the flight simulator generated from live weather reports, with some great clouds and lighting effects.


There is also an airstrip near the Everest Base Camp, called Syangboche Airport (ICAO: VNSB) at 12,297 ft (3,748 m) and it has a 1,329 ft runway. The airstrip is not licensed for commercial operations and has few facilities.

Special flights from Lukla to Syangboche take between 7 and 11 minutes and are by helicopter. Helicopters do fly further, and higher, up to Everest Base Camp, but only for picking up exhausted or injured mountaineers or dropping critical supplies.

Syangboche is the highest point it is advisable to reach by aircraft. It is not uncommon for people visiting Syangboche to be out of breath, due to the high altitude. (Wikipedia)

I was able to land at Syangboche, but the altitude was too high for an non-turbo charged piston aircraft to take-off from (yes, I crashed!). The Cessna Caravan turboprop was able to land and take-off with a light payload and half fuel capacity.

Below is a photo of the actual airstrip looking in a similar direction, probably taken in the summer.

© Creative Commons: CC BY-SA 4.0


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