Lukla airport, considered the gateway Everest region, is a one-of-a-kind and thrilling domestic airport in Nepal located high in the Himalayas. Lukla airport runway is one of the most impressive airport runways around the world.
Forbes Magazine dubbed the airport the “world’s most dangerous airport” in 2019. Dangerous as it may seem, thousands of trekkers, adventurers, and mountaineers take the scenic, short flight to Lukla every best season of the year. The unforgettable journey to the Everest region begins with a breathtaking aerial journey accompanied by the majestic Himalayan ranges.
After the heroic conquest of Mt. Everest from Nepal by legendary mountaineers Tenzing & Hillary on 29th May 1953. Sir. Edmund Hillary wanted to thank the Sherpas for their assistance as high-altitude porters and guides. First, he built a hospital at Khunde and a school at Khumjung village for Khumbu villagers. The construction needed a cargo of building materials with medical and educational items. The work had to be done on time, so he planned to build a small airstrip. Hillary originally intended to construct the airport on flat farmlands.
However, the local farmers were reluctant to give up their land, so the airport now sits at a high altitude surrounded by peaks. Sir Hillary bought the slanted land from local Sherpas for US$2,650 and involved them in building the facilities. It has been said that he was unhappy with the runway’s soil resistance. His solution was to buy local liquor for the Sherpas and ask them to perform a foot-stomping dance to flatten the land that served as the runway. The Everest and Khumbu region was then exposed to the world. Following that, a large influx of adventurers and trekkers started to visit the high Khumbu region. In January 2008, the airport was renamed as Tenzin-Hillary airport in honor of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary to mark their efforts in the completion of this airport.
Lukla Airport Location
Lukla airport is located in a small town that bears the same name Lukla. Lukla comes from the Sherpa language meaning a grazing place for sheep. ‘Luk’ for Sheep and “La” as respect and honor for the beautiful place. The town lies in Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Municipality located in Solukhumbu District of Province no.1 of Nepal. The airport is situated east of the town enclosed on one end by a 600m drop off a cliff face and on the other end by a solid rock. It sits at an elevation of 9,334 ft (2,845 m) above sea level as one of the highest-altitude airports in the world. Towards the north of Lukla Airport stands the high black and snowy ridges of Naulekh and Kalo Himal which form the boundary of Dudh Koshi River valley.
The most dangerous airport in the world
Lukla airport has also earned the moniker “the world’s most dangerous airport.”
Not only does it sit at a high altitude, but it is surrounded by peaks that are close to 7,000 meters high – Kusum Kanguru at 6,367 meters and Numbur at 6,959 meters. The valley’s conditions frequently produce severe wind shear. The thinner air at high altitudes makes it more difficult for engines to generate thrust. Meanwhile, the reduced resistance also makes it harder to slow the plane down, which means the longer the runway, the better.
However, the runway at Lukla Airport is not very accommodating in this regard. It is 527 meters long, made of paved asphalt, and sits on a narrow mountain shelf. There are no go-around procedures at the airport due to the mountainous terrain. This means that once a pilot begins an approach, he or she is committed to landing. The airport has no radar or navigation systems. The pilots rely entirely on what they can see from the cockpit.
Because of the aforementioned lack of go-around options, flights from Kathmandu frequently turn around if the weather at Lukla suddenly changes. During the monsoon season, approximately half of all flights are canceled due to poor visibility. Crosswinds are also known to cause the airport to close in the mid to late mornings.
Various ways to reach Lukla
Lukla Airport remains hugely popular and safe for the 30,000 trekkers who travel into and out of the region each year. In the early days, the trekkers and mountaineers had to use a classic route from a town called Jiri. The walk from Jiri is one of the original ways to approach the high Khumbu and Everest region. It takes a 5-day hike from Jiri to reach Lukla. Ever since the airport was built, trekkers can take the comfort of flying to Lukla in a short time for their Everest Base Camp Trek or any other trips to the Everest region. Currently, there are two routes to reach Lukla by plane.
The popular option for reaching Lukla is the flight from Kathmandu. The air route from Kathmandu to Lukla is approximately 138 k.m./86 miles east which takes around 30-40 minutes. Most flights tend to occur between 6:00 am and 9:00 am when the weather is at its best. Usually, the flight fare is around 190 USD for foreigners, 140 USD for Indian citizens and NRs 6,000 for Nepalese Citizens. The flight only allows 10 kg of luggage and 5 kg of hand-carried bags for passengers. Tara Airlines, Sita Airlines, and Goma Airlines operate regular flights to Lukla from Kathmandu.
The second option is the Manthali airport which is situated in the Ramechhap district. It takes around 15 minutes of flight time to reach Manthali from Ramechhap. The airport of Ramechhap resides at the headquarters of Ramechhap, Manthali (near the banks of the Tamakoshi river).
Another alternative is a helicopter ride. A helicopter flight from Kathmandu to Lukla costs USD 2500 and can hold up to 5 passengers. The trip usually takes 40 to 50 minutes.
Flight Experiences through Kathmandu:
The flight takes off from Kathmandu towards the northeast direction. As soon as the plane lifts, a fabulous panorama of Himalayan peaks is seen from the aircraft. Overlooking Manaslu, Ganesh, and Langtang Himal it continues with the Jugal Himal range and passes through Jiri. After it reaches Lamjura-La Pass at an altitude of 3500m, it diverts to the north side. A beautiful view of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, and Mt. Makalu in the east direction is seen. Afterwards the plane lands on a unique runway that heads uphill to the parking areas. Similarly, the take-off is quite dramatic as well. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and an amazing ride.
Climate at Lukla
Lukla is located in the mountains and it is quite difficult to predict when it comes to weather. It has a subalpine monsoon climate with cool summers and cold winters.
- Spring (March-May): The maximum temperature is 27°C (80°F). This is a very safe and exciting time to go trekking.
- Summer and Monsoon (June – September): A lot of rain falls together with hot, humid conditions, which causes the snow to melt. Trekking during this time is quite dangerous.
- Autumn (September through to November): Temperatures reach a max 26°C (70°F), similar to spring, also a great time to trek with the hills beaming shades of green from monsoon season.
- Winter (December – February): Temperatures reach an all-time low at 18°C (64°F). It gets very cold in Lukla during these months.
The best seasons to visit Lukla and trek in the region are spring and autumn. During these months, the weather is at its best, with ideal hiking conditions and clear skies.
Accommodations and services around Lukla airport
Most trekkers start the walk upon reaching Lukla airport after getting organized with their baggage, guides, and porters. The walk leads through the town, the trail lined with fancy restaurants, bakeries, shops, stores, and good lodges and hotels. Trekkers enjoy and celebrate their last overnight party among fellow members, trekking guides, staff, and porters. There are a variety of shops (handicrafts, dairy products, trekking necessities) there. Banking services such as ATM withdrawals and currency exchange are also available. Several banks, including Rastriya Banijya Bank, Nepal Investment Bank Limited, Nepal Bank, and others, are also available. Private-ownership pharmacies with medical experts are also available.