Tenzing Hillary (Lukla) Airport: Gateway To Everest Region

Lukla Flight Diversion During Peak Season

Lukla Airport, also known as Tenzing-Hillary Airport, is a unique little Airport with a short runway. Tenzing-Hillary is the combined name of Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first two climbers to successfully reach the top of Mount Everest. This airport is located in the Khumbu region at a high altitude (2,845 meters/9,334 feet), encircled by green and steep mountainous topographies. Lukla Airport is featured by a short, sloping runway, providing thrilling landing and takeoff experiences.

Every trek in the Everest route starts with a thrilling flight from Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA) to Lukla Airport. A scenic flight of 30-35 minutes from the capital city will take you to Lukla, covering a distance of 135 kilometers. Alternatively, you can fly to Lukla within a short duration of 20-25 minutes, taking a flight from Ramechhap Airport. Summit, Sita, and Tara Airlines are operating the flight between Ramechhap to Lukla.

The first flight to Lukla is as early as 6:35 A.M., and the last flight departs at 2:00 PM. Flights are mainly operated in the morning for clarity, and longer daylight hours as flights cease early at 2:00 due to strong afternoon high winds. Monsoon season generally brings unfavorable weather conditions that affect flight schedules, and the flight frequency is reduced during off-seasons due to low demands.

During the busy seasons, approximately 40-50 flights take off and land at Lukla Airport on a daily basis. The flight costs from Kathmandu to Lukla generally start from around USD 200. A helicopter flight from Kathmandu to Lukla takes around 40 to 50 minutes and costs around USD 500 per person for the group package (maximum of five people). Likewise, a helicopter charter will cost around USD 2400.

Why to Take Luka Flight

Tenzing Hillart Airport

Short, thrilling flight

Flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is short, spanning about 30-35 minutes. However, the journey is scenic and thrilling. You can behold the wonderful vistas of the snow-capped Himalayas from above the clouds. This short, picturesque flight offers insights into the mesmerizing panoramic views of the high-altitude mountain peaks.

Adventurous journey

Despite the challenging aspects, Lukla flight offers adventurous experience added up with sheer excitement. While flying high for Lukla, you can experience overland travel as thrilling as you cross over several isolated mountain valleys. Beyond the clouds, witness the terraced Himalayan landscapes and interconnected mountain ranges passing below.

Quick access to Lukla Village

Trekking in the Everest Region is an adventurous and exhilarating experience. However, reaching the starting point of the trek, Lukla has its own adventure story of overcoming a daring flight. This popular small town in the Solukhumbu district, elevating at 2,860 meters/9,383 feet, can be reached trekking for several days. However, a short, adventurous flight is the best option to cut time and begin a fresh mountain trek from there.

Gateway to Everest region

Lukla Airport is the main access point for trekking and climbing in the Everest region Himalayas. It serves as a starting point for several adventurous Everest treks like Everest Base Camp Trek (EBC), Gokyo Lakes Trek, Everest View Trek, Three Passes Trek, Two Passes Trek, etc. From here, most trekkers seek the adventurous Everest Base Camp trek through the wonderful landscapes and reach the base camp of the world’s famous highest peak, mount Everest. The trail that joins from the Lukla Airport is a gateway for the most exciting high-altitude adventures.

Teahouse and trekking hub

Lukla Airport has been a bustling center of trekking activities for an entire year. Trekkers and climbers, along with the equipment, transport through this airport. Likewise, the popular Lukla Village serves as a trekking hub, offering lodges and teahouse accommodations. Decent stay and meal services are provided for those opting to set a remarkable Everest region trekking and climbing adventure. The journey through Lukla offers insights into the local Sherpa culture and livelihood.

Size and Elevation of Lukla Airport

Size and Elevation of Lukla Airport

Lukla Airport has a short and challenging runway amidst the high Himalayan region. The approximate runway length of this Airport is 527 meters/1,729 feet. The runway is only 20 meters/66 feet wide, and such a small space creates difficulty for aircraft maneuvering. It has a noticeable uphill gradient (slope of a runway) of around 12 %. This poses additional challenges while landing and takeoffs, requiring specialized skills to overcome.

This world-famous airport is characterized as an adventure in itself, with a small single airstrip. Located in the Khumbu region, the Lukla Airport has an elevation of 2,845 meters/9,334 feet. A short inclined runway in the high altitude difficult landscapes has made the Lukla Airport unique and challenging.

Why is Lukla Airport Considered So Dangerous?

Why is Lukla Airport Considered So Dangerous?

Lukla Airport is precarious due to its difficult terrain. The relatively short runway of the Lukla Airport is significantly sloped, ending with a precipitous descent into the valley below. The difficult geography, high altitude level, and unpredictable weather conditions like strong high winds and fog further contribute to the overall challenges while landing and taking off the plane.

The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla involves a significant elevation range, taking off from approximately 1,400 meters/4,600 feet to landing at an elevation of 2,845 meters/9,334 feet. Lukla Airport at such a high altitude and mountainous region is a difficult factor for Lukla flights. Moreover, the airport is surrounded by steep hills on one side and deep valleys on the other. The small and short runway of the Lukla Airport is steeply inclined, resulting in poor visibility and challenges in maintaining approach and departure angles. Only STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) aircraft and helicopters can land at Lukla Airport.

Lukla Airport was constructed under the leadership and supervision of very Sir Edmund Hillary in 1964. Until 2001, the runway was graveled which was upgraded to concrete paved thereafter. Still, there is no RADAR system (Radio Detection and Ranging) or air navigation, only a radio communication system to take off and land the aircraft. The lack of important Airport infrastructure adds to the Lukla Airport’s minacity.

To fall within the basic requirement of an airport, it is required to have a relatively flat surface and be extensively spacious to accommodate the runways. Likewise, Airports should be free from obstructions of mountains and tall buildings for smooth air navigation. However, the Lukla Airport lacks all these basics, which makes it even more dangerous. Furthermore, it had no runway lights, and flights could take off and land only during daylight until 2019. However, the installation of runway lights thenafter has added to the safety of the Airport.

The Lukla Airport faces unpredictable weather conditions, with sudden shifts in climate and atmosphere. Weather challenges like haze, fog, and high mountain winds are common, which leads to possible delays and cancellations of flights. Almost 50% of flights get canceled during the monsoon due to low visibility. The flights are closed during midday because of the crosswinds. So, it is always good to travel and trek during the favorable time of the year.

Is the Lukla Flight Safe?

Is the Lukla Flight Safe

The Lukla Airport operates as per Visual Flight Rules (VFR), and the flights can stop without prior warnings. Compared to other domestic airports in Nepal, the flight to Lukla Airport is alarming due to its geographical location and uncertain weather. However, the concern has been made by the related authorities about the flight conditions and aircraft regulations that are deemed acceptable. Authorized and certified pilots are hired to fly over to Lukla.

Despite the fact that Lukla Airport is the most dangerous in the world, however, has a record of safely carrying about 40-50 flights each day during the peak trekking/climbing season. Over the years, trekkers destined for high-altitude Everest region adventure have flown into this airport.

This airport, in the narrow valley of Lukla, faces strong winds that can be threatening to air traffic. Hence, flights are usually scheduled for the early morning hours. If you fly during the Spring (March-May) and Autumn (September -November), you can have a safe trip favored by the clear and cloudless skies. Due to good weather conditions and enhanced visibility, flights are less risky. Similarly, there is less chance of delay and flight cancellations. The momentum of winds at this time gets lower, and the airport becomes dry, favoring safe aircraft maneuvers.

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Alternative routes to reach Lukla skipping the flight

jiri nepal
Jiri, Nepal

While skipping the flight to Lukla, you have to make an overland approach through Jiri or Salleri for Everest region trekking. Sir Edmund Hillary’s expedition used the Jiri path, the only path until the construction of Lukla Airport. There are no direct bus or jeep services to Lukla from Kathmandu due to the absence of a road connection in between.

The alternative option of reaching Lukla requires more time and effort. You need to drive from Kathmandu to the lower Everest regions like Jiri (1,905 meters/6250 feet) or Salleri (2,390 meters/7,841 feet) and trek for a few days until reaching Lukla. You can hire a Jeep for around 150$ that can fit upto five people. From Kathmandu it takes around 8-10 hours to reach Jiri and 10-12 hours to reach Salleri due to no straight roads.

Jiri trail is longer and scenic, whereas Salleri is a closer starting point to Lukla. It takes about 3-4 days to trek from Salleri to Lukla and around 5-6 days from Jiri. The total road distance from Kathmandu to Lukla is around 360 kilometers. If you drive upto Salleri (headquarters of Solukhumbu District), you cover 267 kilometers and 184 kilometers while driving upto Jiri, a town in Dolakha district.

About Author

Ashish Niraula is a seasoned trekker and professional tour consultant based in the country of the Himalayas. He has over seven years of hands-on experience in the sector, which has helped fortify his knowledge and expertise to craft the most iconic and memorable adventure packages in the Himalayas. Ashish’s passion for traveling and the unwavering drive that always pushes him toward excellency, have helped him earn a reputation as a trustworthy advisor in the tourism sector.

As a traveling enthusiast, Ashish has explored all the major trekking routes of Nepal. With years of experience exploring the mystical Himalayas and professional engagement in the field, Ashish honed his skills to design the most iconic adventure experiences in the Himalayas that cater to the adventure palate of every traveler. From organizing the challenging treks to the rugged Himalayas with incredible thrills to facilitating culturally immersive experiences across the traditional settlements in the country, Ashish’s commitment to excellence shines through every aspect of his work.

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