Lukla is the gateway to the Everest region which everyone passes through en route to Mt. Everest or to other vantage points in the region. Also known as Tenzing Hillary Airport, it lies in Lukla, Khumbu, in Solukhumbu District of Province No. 1 or Eastern Nepal. Situated on the face of a mountain at an elevation of almost 2,900m, the airport is enclosed on one end by a 600m drop off a cliff face and on the other end by a solid stone wall. The airport runway is at 9,400 feet on top of a 2,000 feet cliff. Because of its risky location and length, the airport has been rated one of the most dangerous in the world.
Its danger is mainly technical in that the combination of a very short runway, extreme altitude, and often adverse weather conditions make it quite a gut-wrenching ride when taking off and landing. The odds, however, are relatively good. Since origin, there have only been 3 fatal crashes, all linked to bad weather. Considering that there are multiple daily flights between Kathmandu and Lukla, the numbers aren’t bad at all making the airport pretty safe.
Despite the danger it bears, it is also one of the most spectacular flight experiences you will ever have in your life. Traveling to the Everest region will feel like an incomplete adventure without the flight experience. The 40-minute flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is breathtaking. The scenic flight above the beautiful snow-capped Himalayas is the highlight of the trek itself.
Lukla airport is located in a small town at the foot of Mount Everest. This beautiful town is found in the northeast of Nepal and sits at 2,640m from sea level. The town is well renowned as the place with many goats and sheep and trading of mountain productions in the lower belt of Nepal, India, and Tibet. Though it’s a small town, the place is buzzing with the happy sound of excited adventure trekkers either getting ready for the trekking/expeditions or finishing off a well-deserved beer after finishing an adventurous Everest Region exploration. The popular Everest Base Camp Trek normally starts after landing at Lukla Airport.
Why is Lukla Airport considered the most dangerous airport in the world?
Lukla Airport, also known as Tenzing Hillary Airport is considered the most dangerous airport in the world for the following reasons:
- Located in a narrow valley surrounded by steep Himalayan Mountains makes it is challenging for the pilots to land and take off at the Lukla Airport. The airport has a very small runway of about 527 meters (1,729 feet) long and has a steep gradient of 12% which makes it one of the shortest and steepest runways in the world.
- The weather conditions in the Himalayas can be very unpredictable and change rapidly, with sudden fog, cloud cover, and strong winds. These conditions can make it difficult for pilots to navigate and land safely.
- Lukla Airport also has limited navigational aids, and there is no control tower, which means that pilots have to rely on their own judgment and skills to land and take off safely.
All of these factors combine to make Lukla Airport one of the most dangerous airports in the world, and it requires skilled pilots and specialized aircraft to operate safely. Despite the risks, Lukla Airport is a vital transportation hub for tourists and climbers visiting the nearby Mount Everest region.
How to reach Lukla?
Kathmandu to Lukla is the first and popular route to the journey to trek to the Everest Region of Nepal. There are several means of transportation to reach Lukla.
- By Jeep: It is not possible to drive all the way from Kathmandu to Lukla as there is no road connection between the two places. However, one can take a jeep or a car up to Salleri, which is about 160 kilometers from Kathmandu, and then take a hike to Lukla, which takes about 2-3 days.
- By Flight: The most common and convenient way to get to Lukla is by taking a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. Several airlines operate daily flights between the two places, and the flight takes about 30-40 minutes. It is a scenic flight, and the landing at Lukla's small airstrip is quite an experience. This airport is considered one of the most extreme airports in the world because of the short runway and unpredictable weather situations. You can see the frequent delays and cancellations of flights at this airport. Sometimes, the entire trip plan gets affected because of the flight cancellation in Lukla.
- By Helicopter: Another option is to take a helicopter from Kathmandu to Lukla, which takes about 25- 30 minutes. This is a more expensive option than flying, but it offers a more comfortable and quicker mode of transportation. It also provides the added advantage of being able to see the Himalayas from a bird's eye view.
It's important to note that the flight and helicopter schedules to Lukla can be affected by weather conditions, and flights can be delayed or canceled at short notice. However, in case the flight gets canceled, you can easily reschedule for the next day or Footprint Adventure can help you in other ways like chartering the helicopter, or traveling via road (which takes a few more days extra).
Facts of Lukla Airport
- Lukla airport got its name Tenzing-Hillary Airport in 2008 after Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to ascend Mt. Everest successfully. The 35min flight from Kathmandu is the fastest way to reach Lukla for the Everest Region trekking and expeditions.
- Sherpa people are well known for their mountaineering skills and were actively involved in the construction of Lukla airport.
- The airport was built in 1964 under the leadership of Sir Edmund Hillary.
- The airport has a short runway with a length of 527m and 30min wide which causes difficulty in the landing and take-offs.
- The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla offers stunning views of mountains, landscapes, and valleys. Indeed, it will be a scenic world-class fly.
- There would be at least 60+ flights every day during the prime trekking season which makes this airport one of the busiest domestic airports in Nepal.
- The plane to/from Lukla is very small, so there are no fixed seats to sit therefore you are recommended to sit on the left when you are flying to Lukla similarly, on the right when you are flying to Kathmandu. It will reward you with an incredible massive Everest mountain panorama.
- At Lukla Airport, there is no Radar System, but there is a radio communication system to take on and take off.
- The baggage allowance on the flight to Lukla airport is 15 kg.
- In 2010, The History Channel broadcast Lukla airport as the world’s most dangerous airport.
- The weather of the Lukla changes very frequently, therefore cancellation of flights are bound to happen very often.
- Only a Twin Otter size plane can land at Lukla airport. A company like Nepal Airlines, Sita Air, Summit Air, and Tara Air can do the regular commercial flights in this airport.
- Due to the difficulty in landing, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal sets high priority where a pilot with 100 short-takeoff and landing (STOL), at least one year experience in Nepal, and has completed 10 flights to Lukla with a certified instructor pilot are allowed to land in this airport.
When is the best time to travel to Lukla?
Lukla is a heartland of the Everest Khumbu region, where hundreds of trekkers fly in and out every day in peak trekking and expedition season. The weather of the Lukla depends upon the seasons of the year. Normally, Autumn (Sept-Nov) and Spring (March-May) is the best season to travel in the Everest region as well as Luka town. During this season, the sky gets clear almost every day, so that the flights are on time and less risky as well. Fewer clouds, the speed of the wind is less, the airport becomes dry which is relatively safe while landing, super good visibility for the pilots are the major reason why spring and autumn is the best season to travel in Lukla.
What is the cost of a flight to Lukla?
The Kathmandu to Lukla flight cost is only 180 USD per person. The 25-minutes flight allows 10 kg luggage along with 5 kg hand carry. As for Indian nationals, the flight costs only around 147 USD per person. However, the price fluctuates day-to-day, and if you are lucky, you might catch some offers as well. If you are in a group of 2 or more, then you can also ask for discounts.
Is there any other way to get to Lukla?
If you are not a fan of flying or you want to keep it authentic, you can also take a jeep or public bus from Kathmandu to Jiri, a town in the Lower Everest region, and start your trek from there. It often takes 3-4 days to reach Lukla, and you'll see far fewer trekkers, have most of the trail to yourself and pass through beautiful Sherpa villages along the way. Many of the guides and porters that you'll see in the Upper Everest region call this region their home.
Are flights to Lukla safe?
Despite being the most dangerous airport in the world, Lukla airport safely carried out about 50+ flights daily during the peak trekking and expedition season. Almost more than half of the trekkers who visit Nepal annually tend to fly into Lukla airport. While the Lukla airport is comparatively more dangerous statistically than a typical commercial domestic airport in Nepal, still it’s pretty safe. The aviation officials of Nepal and local airlines are very concerned about the acceptable flight conditions and regulations for aircraft making the journey to Lukla. Because of its landing and takeoff difficulties, weather challenges, and other risk factors anding, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal sets high priority where a pilot with 100 short-takeoff and landing (STOL), at least one year of experience in Nepal, and has completed 10 flights to Lukla with a certified instructor pilot are allowed to land in this airport.
What if flights get canceled for several days?
Due to the high probability of bad weather delaying flights, it is recommended that trekkers build in some days at the end of their trek and not have an international flight too soon after the scheduled Lukla to Kathmandu flight. In case of long delays (it has been known for bad weather to close in and delay flights for up to 10 days), there is the option of chartering a helicopter from Lukla. This is an expensive option though between USD 2,000 and 2,500 for a five-seater helicopter. However, if your flight is canceled, you can claim back 100% of the money from the travel agent or airline you made your booking with.