7 Facts You Never Knew About Flying Into Bhutan

Email

Druk Asia interviewed Namgyal Wangchuk, Senior First Officer with Drukair to find out what it's like to fly into Paro International Airport.

Paro International Airport (Source: Druk Asia)

 

By Natalie Joy Lee Druk Asia

Is it really the most dangerous flight landing in the world, where few pilots are qualified to fly into the Land of the Thunder Dragon? We speak to a Drukair pilot to set the record straight once and for all.

Firstly, there’s no radar to guide planes into Bhutan’s Paro International airport. 

Next imagine navigating around a long, winding, narrow valley surrounded by mountains as high as 18,000 feet, the pilot flying entirely on manual mode (with sheer experience!).  

 

Paro International Airport is situated in the Paro Valley, right in the midst of many tall mountains at 7,400 ft above sea level. Flying in and out of Paro on a plane promises you fascinating views. 

Source: Druk Asia Bhutan Travel Specialist

 

Finally, while most airports offer at least 10 nautical miles (that’s about 18km) of distance for pilots to gauge the most aligned approach onto the landing strip, this airport accords just one to two nautical miles – which literally means that there’s absolutely no room for error.

We are talking about the flight in and out of the Paro International Airport, the main gateway into the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

If the flight into Bhutan commands great skills, you must be wondering what goes on inside the cockpit?

 

Photo: Druk Asia

 

Well, we caught up with Namgyal Wangchuk, Senior First Officer with Drukair, Royal Bhutan Airlines for the ‘real story’ behind landing into Paro.

  1. It truly is one of the ‘most challenging’ flights in the world.

To put it simply, what makes it a challenge to fly into Paro is mainly due to the rough terrain that surrounds the Paro International Airport.

The mountains can be as high as 18,000 ft. In contrast, the airport lies at an elevation of 7,364 ft.

Technically, this affects and restricts the performance of the airplane. A pilot who is navigating a mid-sized jet would require more space and time to make critical decisions during take-off and landing.

  1. Half Changi Airport’s runway length, and you’ll have an idea of Paro Airport’s tight landing strip.

Another factor that makes flying into Paro unique and challenging is the length of the runway. It’s only 7,431 ft long (compared to Changi Airport’s 13,123 ft), and all the above factors demand the pilot to be very precise when landing.

  1. Planes can always land on auto pilot mode, right?

Not for the approach into Paro. We do have our own company procedures for landing that has been designed by our experienced captains and plane manufacturer.

It dictates what speed and altitude we’ll have to be at each checkpoint while approaching descend. I won’t go into detail as it’s quite technical! 

  1. If pilots can’t fly manually with confidence, then Paro International Airport is out of the question.

Other international airports have a technology called an ILS (Instrument Landing System) which guides the aircraft laterally and vertically in an approach to landing.

 

Photo: Druk Asia

 

But in Paro, the descent is always manually flown and we have just one VOR (Very high frequency Omni-directional range) equipment to guide us. 

  1. You’ll never find anyone with red-eyed flights into Bhutan.

All flights into Paro are limited to Visual Meteorological Conditions only. This means that there must be sufficient visibility of other aircrafts and the surrounding terrain. Bhutan bound flights are thus restricted to daylight hours, so night flying is not possible! 

  1. Think the views of the Himalayan Alps are mesmerising? Wait, there’s more.

As you might have heard, our country has been preserving its forest cover so when we fly in, we’re very close to the mountains which lets you in on an amazing view.

 Nearing the airport, the rice fields are always changing in colours according to seasons, so that’s quite an experience too.

  1. Yes, Drukair has expatriate pilots too!

There used to be very few international pilots with Drukair, but now that the aviation sector in Bhutan in general is growing rapidly. Currently, we have 25 Bhutanese pilots as well as a crew of 10 expatriate pilots.

 

This article first appeared in Druk Asia and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.

 


Related Posts

Yonphula Airport In Bhutan Sees More Passengers With Increased...

Operations manager with Koufuku International Limited, Sanjok Biswakarma, said that the changes in the flight timing...

Dec 03, 2018 22:29

Paro International Airport Enhanced With New Infrastructure To...

With the modified departure terminal building, the airport is expected to accommodate about 720 passengers, twice the...

Jul 27, 2018 08:51

Paro International Airport gets a Makeover

Paro International Airport is getting a facelift with the construction of parallel taxiway and re-modification of the...

Oct 12, 2017 18:33

Yongphula Domestic Airport reopens to air traffic

After remaining closed for over four years, the Yonphula Domestic Airport in Trashigang was formally reopened yesterday....

Oct 09, 2017 18:56

New DrukAir Route Linking Guwahati, Singapore And Paro Set To...

The route is expected to facilitate travel, trade and people to people exchange in Bhutan, Assam and Singapore as well...

Sep 02, 2018 15:42

From Humanitarian To Transportation And Tourism Services,...

For the Bhutanese, Lunana remains the top destination with the highlanders having used the services of the choppers more...

Dec 31, 2018 09:02

Latest

News

Remembering His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s Legacies On His 64th Birthday

During His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s 34 year reign, he has implemented many landmark policies.

Nov 12, 2019 20:28

EU Supports Capacity Building To Improve Bhutan’s Export Diversification

Bhutanese products selected for export and market diversification are ginger, turmeric, mushrooms and yak dairy.

Nov 07, 2019 23:58

Features

Global Happiness Alliance Aims To Spread Concept Of Gross National Happiness Worldwide

The alliance seeks to enhance the understanding of GNH as a concept and to spread it all around the world.

Nov 08, 2019 23:08

Zoedue – Fermented Cheese Made By The Brokpas Of Sakteng Sees Increasing Demand

Zoedue has become a lucrative business in Sakteng ever since motor-road accessibility improved.

Nov 05, 2019 23:48

Sports

Bhutan’s Pelden Wangchuk Wins 10th Edition Of Tour 0f Dragon Mountain Bike Race

This year, the race also saw the highest number of female participants compared to past years.

Sep 10, 2019 01:08

Tour Of The Dragon – Toughest One Day Bike Race Starts On 7 September In Bhutan

It takes sheer toil and stamina for the top riders to complete the 268 km race which finishes at the capital, Thimphu.

Sep 06, 2019 23:58

Business

Gakyed Gatoen - Festival of Happiness Seeks To Promote Bhutan’s Products

The idea of the festival was to enable tourists and Bhutanese to learn about the traditional cottage industry.

Nov 01, 2019 23:28

Cottage & Small Industries Flagship Programme Rolled Out In Bhutan, Set To Create More Jobs

The CSI sector was identified as one the flagship programme in view of its greater socio-economic roles in Bhutan.

Oct 11, 2019 15:38

Travel

Bhutan Bird Festival Set Bird Watching Haven Of Zhemgang Abuzz

Zhemgang is home to more than 500 species of birds, which is an area much sought after by bird watchers from around the world.

Nov 13, 2019 12:48

4th Edition Of Laya’s Royal Highland Festival Saw More Tourists And Participants

The Royal Highland Festival helps to preserve the age-old traditions of the highlanders.

Oct 28, 2019 23:38

Lifestyle

Bhutanese Textiles To Be Exhibited In Paris Trade Fair 2020

The exhibition is an initiative of the EU-Bhutan Trade Support project.

Nov 10, 2019 12:48

Launch Of Karen Greenspan’s Footfalls From The Land Of Happiness: A journey Into The Dances Of Bhutan

The book delves into familiar subjects that are what continues to shape Bhutan’s image.

Oct 05, 2019 10:18

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!