I have flown in and out of Paro International Airport four times within the span of past five years but I had not realized how dangerously the aircraft maneuvers around the valley to avoid the surrounding terrains. I had heard from my friends that the flight path to and from Paro seems to cut through two rugged mountains and it seems if the pilot misses a blink, the plane could crash into the terrains on either side. It’s no surprise that Paro International Airport is ranked as one of the top ten scariest airports of the world.
A few days back, I was watching a short video documentary produced by BBC World News in October 2014 as part of its program ‘The Travel Show’ and I warn you, it’s very scary how our pilots manage to get the aircraft in and out of our only international airport in Paro. The video presents the first-hand account of how our pilots maneuver the aircraft across rugged mountains totally based on their local geographical knowledge and visual reference. I was surprised to know that the instruments installed on the plane to avoid terrains are of no use in Bhutan because the airport lies just behind the mountain. The pilot says there’s no instrument that can guide an aircraft to Paro and hence, the pilots have to rely on their local knowledge and experience. The autopilot which can basically fly a plane without a pilot is also of no use in Bhutan. So, the pilots have to switch it off as they enter the Bhutanese airspace and fly towards Paro completely with the help of their naked eyes. It’s even more scary when the pilot says that they have to watch out for the wings of the aircraft and the roof of the houses below while navigating in and out of Paro. The airport being surrounded by mountains, the aircraft has to instantly navigate either to the right or left after take-off while making a steep climb to avoid the mountain just ahead of the aircraft. The runway itself is less than two kilometers long and hence, it’s safe for only smaller aircrafts like Airbus A319 to land and take-off. Although the geographical location of the airport seems to pose threats to aviation safety, our pilots are absolutely trustworthy, qualified and experienced. I was discussing this with my friend
Riku Dhan Subba yesterday during lunch time and he told me that it’s good to have such a dangerous airport because that would keep the pilots always alert and the accidents will not happen. I think in a way, he’s also right. I am sure because of the risky and dangerous flight route, our pilots will always be vigilant, attentive and careful, and hence, we will always be safe.
Below is the documentary if you want to watch: