As well as being the riskiest airport in Nepal, Lukla is actually the country’s busiest as well, serving as the key port of entry and exit for climbers hoping to ascend Everest.
Although Lukla’s runway (there is only one) was renovated in 2001, it was originally built in 1964 by Sir Edmund Hillary, the mountaineer from New Zealand who, a decade previously, was the first climber confirmed to reach Everest’s summit.
The runway is a mere 1,729 feet (527 metres) long, which is pretty shocking when you consider that Heathrow’s northern runway measures more than seven times that, at 12,802 ft (3,902 m).
Short runways are a danger because a pilot has limited space both to get the plane off the ground and to land it safely. The room for error decreases immensely as the runway gets shorter and, to make matters worse, Lukla sits at 9,500 feet above sea level. The higher the altitude, the lower the air density, meaning the planes need to land at faster speeds.
Beyond the perils of the runway and elevation, Lukla airport is precarious due to the harsh landscape that surrounds it. At the landing end of the runway lies a stone wall and a steep mountain. If the plane doesn’t stop soon enough, the terrain will stop it. As for the take-off, that side of the runway terminates at the edge of a steep cliff, so if you don’t make it into the air you’ll fall down a mountainside instead.
All this makes aborting a take-off or landing basically impossible, leaving pilots a very minimal margin for error.
Beyond that, the weather in this area changes constantly and the cloud cover can be extreme, leading to major turbulence, which, though not dangerous, tends to be tough for passengers to endure. It’s just not going to be a pleasant flight whichever way you slice it.
Sadly, a crash in May 28, 2017 brought Lukla back in the spotlight as the number one most dangerous airport in the world. If you’re planning to climb Everest, you may want to consider driving into Lukla instead of flying.