Tenzing-Hillary Airport, or Lukla Airport, is located 9,383 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountainous terrain. Its short runway is 1,729 feet (it’s common to have 7,000-10,000-foot runways) and sits on the edge of a cliff, with a 2,000-foot drop on one side and a stone wall on the other. The weather is highly unpredictable in the mountains, so the flights only operate in the morning. It’s common for flights to get canceled due to sudden snow or fog. A pilot may even decide to return to Kathmandu if the weather seems unfavorable because once you start the descent, you have to land. Only small planes and helicopters can land and take-off here and captains need special training, including at least 100 short take-offs and landings, one year of experience in Nepal in such conditions, and 10 successful flights to Lukla with a certified instructor.
Even so, it has a history of plane crashes. In 2019, three people died when a plane veered off the runway and hit a helicopter. In 2008, 18 people died when a plane tried to land here. More incidents have happened.
Why do people still get on this flight?
A town with fewer than 500 people, Lukla is a popular starting point for the Mount Everest trek. There are other ways to reach the town, including a bus ride, a private helicopter, and of course trekking, but the 40-minute flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is a time-saver.