My Experience Landing At One Of The Most “Dangerous” Airports In The World

Yesterday I flew from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Paro, Bhutan, on Drukair. As an aviation geek I was especially excited about landing at Paro Airport, which is supposedly one of the most dangerous airports in the world to land at. I’m not sure if “dangerous” is really the right word, but perhaps more accurately it’s one of the most challenging airports to land at, which is why only very few pilots are certified to land there.

Paro-Airport

Here’s a recent segment that PBS did on the approach into Paro Airport (thanks to reader Dave for pointing this out), which does a good job of explaining what’s so challenging about it:

As you can see, only visual landings are possible, and you’re constantly having to adjust your heading on approach as you fly through valleys in order to make it to the runway.

Of course I had to videotape the approach, starting when the landing gear was deployed. Here’s the video:

I apologize for the quality of the video. I was trying to record the approach with my iPhone while also taking pictures with my camera, so at times it was a bit shaky, and the phone also kept hitting the window. On top of that, the window was dirty, and at times there was glare from the sun. Oops.

Overall it was a fun approach, though it wasn’t nearly as “scary” as I was expecting. While there are quite a few turns on the approach, visibility was good throughout (I assume we wouldn’t have landed otherwise), and I didn’t think the angle was that extreme on our final approach.

Anyway, if you have the chance, I highly recommend flying into Paro Airport, and more importantly, visiting Bhutan, which is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been (and I’ve only been here for a day).

Kudos to the Drukair pilots for their incredible skill. I recently had a conversation with an A380 captain, and asked him how he likes the plane. He said “don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful plane, but I miss flying. I feel like all I do nowadays is manage computers.” I imagine that’s one complaint the Drukair pilots don’t have. 😉

Comments

  1. I hope Bhutan raises prices for tourists. Their approach to tourism is right. Need to protect those lands from marauding tourists. Only a few allowed every year.

    Nepal already pimped out the everest and look at the trash can it has become. People are not nice in general.

  2. did you fly on tbe A319?

    The approach near the hills and final turn is quite a ride

    @credit I agree,
    the royal Prince should keep prices high enough to discourage the casual loser you see in south east Asia.

  3. Why’d they have subtitles for that pilot? I’ve met native-born Americans who are considerably less intelligible.

  4. Lucky, you are living a dream come true. Enjoy and keep us informed- it really helps and it’s fun to live vicariously through you. I did lots of travelling at your age and still travel, but at 68 it’s fun to see what you do!

  5. Flying out of Paro is one of my best flights ever. Normally Druk has a direct flight to Delhi, but often stops at Bondogra for more fuel. Anyway on a clear day on the right side of the plane you can see five of the seven highest mountains in the world stretched out on the horizen. Love Bhutan.

  6. Another myth shattered.

    The approach is nothing difficult; it only requires good weather. The airport lacks any instrumental landing system or mapped RNAV procedure so the minimum descent altitude is a whopping 5167 feet above the field — in other words, if there are any clouds at or below 12,500′ MSL it’s a no go. Also, on windy days you have to deal with up/downdrafts, windshear and turbulence during final approach and winds that may not be constant (change in direction and/or intensity) along the complete runway length. And, of course, if you go missed, you better execute the procedure correctly, or you may go bump into one of the high hills around it.

    In other words, it’s an airport experiences best with fair weather.

  7. Also … you can only land/take off from Paro during daytime hours (from 15 minutes before sunrise to 15 minutes after sunset)!

  8. I found the approach to the airport to be fun, but not particularly dangerous if the weather is good, and of course the pilots are very, very skilled as well.

    To me, the most nerve-racking (which is code for FUN AND AWESOME) approach was Kai Tak when landing from the north. Ah, the good old days…

    For those boosters of Bhutan keeping prices high, that’s what Botswana has done to preserve tourism and price backpackers out of the market (Namibia has done this to a certain extent as well). Whether or not one loves or hates this approach, there is no doubt it is keeping crowds under control for safari-goers.

  9. You’ll have to do Lukla now (LUA), arguably the ‘most’ dangerous place to land a plane. Quite an experience anyway.

  10. In 2002 I was in Miri, Malaysia at a conference and a group of 20 of us decided to go to Mulu caves for the weekend. We booked a Vision Air flight (not sure if they still operate). Weighed upon checkin and the flight had 24 seats. Some locals in our group had taken this trip before and with their ‘inside knowledge’ knew that if the weather was good and pilots cooperative we could request they take a few extra gallons and few extra minutes and fly between the mountains and through the valleys enroute. Wow, was I crapping myself or what as we weaved between mountains and seemingly just brushed the dense canopies of the wild jungle trees below whilst having an awesome view of sheer cliffs and Rocky Mountain outcrops.

    Not sure if any else has experienced this or if it would still be possible some 15years later. My knuckles were white as I clenched the arm rest!!

  11. Interesting that the fields are so brown … time of year. And perfect weather flight. Enjoyed seeing it.

  12. Thanks for your video of the landing in Paro. I was in Bhutan from 12-16 March and being seated too close to the left wing blocked my view. Besides our flight was delayed 8 hours due to “snowfall” the previous day so we go there around 6PM under very grey skies. But even so I was ecstatic to be there, and I loved seeing the snow-capped mountains that we passed. Watching your video just made me pine for Bhutan again as I now start to cull the ‘000 of photos I took that really do not do justice to the place, the people and its culture. I love Bhutan. I think everyone should go and visit it at least once, and learn for this beautiful country. Thanks again.

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