The extremely difficult topography and exceptionally high altitude mountains, ranging up to 15,000 feet, makes flying in the Himalayas a very tough job. Majority of the top ten most dangerous airports in the world are in Nepal with very short and narrow airstrips, leading to short take off and landing, technically termed as STOL.
Some of these scariest airports lie in the Far West of Nepal.
Flying in the Far West
The Far West of Nepal is the least developed, and also the most untouched part of Nepal. People in these regions live in extremely exigent conditions, especially people in higher altitudes. Most of these places are accessible only through air-planes. However, not only living in these areas is tough, but flying in these regions is quite challenging as well.
Due to difficult topography, major parts of far west Nepal depend on airplanes to fly in basic supplies and medicines. Most of these goods are flown in from Surkhet in the mid-west. Four different companies (Makalu, Tara, Goma and Kashtamandap) fly from Surkhet to many destinations in the west. These airlines fly in people, supplies and medicines to all districts wherever they are needed.
I had an opportunity to fly with Makalu air several times with different pilots, to different destinations in the far west. I personally witnessed how challenging it can be to fly in these regions. But I must commend, those pilots are doing an extraordinary job.
There is more than one reason that leads to such difficult conditions. The climate changes in minutes, weather and terrain are the major problems. Additionally, the airstrips are short and rough, while the airports are ill-equipped with no proper infrastructure to aid the pilots to fly smoothly.
All the airports in the far west are extremely challenging, but Rara and Dolpa are the scariest of all. These regions that are dependant for their most basic necessities, of course do not have huge dozers and rollers to pave the airstrips, neither can they be carried by aircrafts. This leads to rough and un-cemented runways. And once again, due to an elevated terrain, the navigation equipment at the signal base does not work effectively.
Until a year back, even Simikot airport was tough to fly into. It was recently blacktopped, which led to smooth landing for the pilots. But even then the topography and rapid wind gusting brings in more challenges. The conditions are more or less the same at all the airports in the far west.
Pilot error, poor maintenance, bad airports, unexpected weather conditions are the major causes of plane crashes in Nepal. But, in the west, the main reason is always due to dreadful airstrips. Any crash or incident has always taken place while the aircraft is on landing phase or after landing on roll. This concludes that the main reason has been poor airports conditions.
Text & Images: Mithila Jariwala