Only A Handful Of Pilots Are Qualified To Land At This Crazy Himalayan Airport

paro airport bhutan

Photo: Flickr/Northwest Rafting Company

Most people’s fears about flying are unfounded: It’s a remarkably safe form of travel, especially on large, commercial airlines.But for anyone headed to Bhutan, a little fear of air travel is totally justified. The small country’s only international airport is called Paro, and like the rest of the mostly Buddhist kingdom, it is nestled among the Himalayan Mountains.

Bhutan, whose neighbours include China and India, held its first general election just five years ago, after converting from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one.

Despite some changes, the country has preserved much of its traditional Buddhist culture, a big draw for the tourists who come from around the world to explore its majestic mountains and centuries-old monasteries.

But the 18,000-foot mountains surrounding Paro, plus its unusually short runway, make getting there a scary proposition: Takeoffs and landings are among the world’s most difficult, and very few pilots are qualified to land there, according to the Daily Mail.

But for those who can get their hands on a tourist visa (not the easiest task) and handle their fear, a trip to Paro also offers breathtaking views of some of the world’s most beautiful mountains, and one of the only ways to visit one of world’s happiest countries.

The runway is short, with little space on either side.

The Google Maps satellite view shows it is nestled among the Himalaya Mountains.

Many of the passengers who fly into Paro are tourists.

Monks use the airport as well, perhaps to visit Bhutan's monasteries. Or, they are locals going away for a bit.

Sometimes, the airport is used for more formal occasions. In April 2010, Bhutan hosted the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation summit. Here, the Indian prime minister arrives at Paro.

Until July 2011, the only airline using Paro was Druk Air.

It is now open to a few more airlines, including private jet service through charter company Chapman Freeborn.

As they come in for landing, pilots must navigate a series of quick turns, to avoid the tall mountains and get in position to land on the short runway.

The airport is only used in good weather, but gusts of wind are an ever present risk.

They can make landing and taking off quite scary.

Planes taking off seem to be on a collision course with a hillside.

But they quickly gain elevation, and bank right.

If all goes well, they clear the peak and start their journey.

Now see what an ordinary flight on American Airlines can be like.

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