Lukla Airport: Your Starting Point for the Ultimate Everest Adventure
Lukla Airport serves as the starting point for trekkers embarking on the awe-inspiring journey to the Everest region. Its unique location, perched on a steep incline at an altitude of approximately 2,845 meters, presents a thrilling challenge and indicates the extreme landscapes you are about to explore as you land at this airport.
On the one side of the airport lies the solid stone wall while on the other side is a 600-meter cliff. The airport transports almost all trekkers and goods to the Everest region, and the traffic at this airport has increased substantially over the years.
Introduction to Lukla Airport
The word “Lukla” means the area of goats and sheep. This airport used to be called Lukla Airport after the Lukla Village in the Solukhumbu District of northeastern Nepal, where it is located.
However, in 2008, it was renamed Tenzing Hillary Airport to honor Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary, the first persons to reach Everest.
It holds a special place in the hearts of trekkers and mountaineers as the gateway to the Everest region. Its runway is notably short and positioned on a steep incline, adding thrill to every landing and take-off.
The History of Lukla Airport
The history of Lukla Airport is intertwined with the legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who reached the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. After summiting Everest and gaining international fame, Edmund Hillary supervised the construction of this airport, which debuted in 1964.
Initially, Edmund Hillary wanted to use the flat farmlands for the airport, but the local farmers refused to give them their limited farmlands.
So, instead, Hillary bought the land where the current airport is for USD 2,650. He purchased alcohol for the Sherpas in the area and requested them to engage in a foot-stomping dance aimed at enhancing soil resistance. This hardened the soil, making it suitable for airstrip.
Initially, Lukla Airport was a simple airstrip, serving as a crucial entry point for trekkers and mountaineers. The runway was improved many times and was finally paved thirty-seven years later, in 2001.
Over the years, Tenzing Hillary Airport has undergone several upgrades to enhance safety and accommodate the growing number of adventurers eager to explore the Everest region.
Wikipedia states that in 2019, almost 129,508 passengers used this airport. It is also the busiest short take-off and landing (STOL) in Nepal, with an average of 30 flights conducted every day in peak trek seasons.
How Lukla Airport operates?
The airport is busy throughout the year but is busier in trek seasons (March to May and September to November).
As an STOL Airport, mostly Twin Otter, Dornier, L-410 turbolet, and Pilatus Turbo Porter aircraft fly to Lukla. The weather plays a huge role in the flights to/from Lukla.
Nepal Civil Aviation Authority (CAAN) permits flying these aircraft only when the visibility is 16,400 feet or more.
The 45-minute flight from Kathmandu Airport involves navigating through the high Himalayas. Therefore, all flights follow Visual Flight Rules (VFR).
The airport is in a high mountainous region, where the weather changes quickly. Hence, most flights take place around 6:00 am to avoid the cloud build-up later in the day. It also means the time window for conducting flights to and from Lukla is limited, making the Lukla Airport very busy.
Landing at Lukla airport requires exceptional skills, and only highly qualified pilots are permitted to conduct the flights.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) rules state that the pilots flying to/from Lukla must have at least one year of flying experience in STOL airports in Nepal, completed at least 100 STOL flights, and flown to Lukla ten times under a certified pilot.
Flying to Lukla from Kathmandu
For weather considerations, the flights to Lukla will be in the morning. Hence, depending on your flight time, you must reach Tribhuvan International Airport domestic terminal at around six. The distance from Kathmandu to Lukla is about 140 km or 87 miles, and the flight lasts around 35 minutes.
Flying from Manthali Airport (Ramechhap) to Lukla
During peak trek seasons (March to May and September to November), due to air traffic congestion in Kathmandu Airport, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) requires flights to/from Lukla to be conducted from Manthali Airport in Ramechhap district.
A drive to Manthali from Kathmandu will take four to five hours. Since you have to reach Lukla Airport in the morning to avoid the afternoon clouds, you may have to reach Manthali early in the morning.
If in Kathmandu, you must wake up around 1 am and reach Manthali around 6 am to catch your flight. The flight from Manthali to Lukla lasts for twenty minutes.
What is the Luggage weight limit for Lukla Flights?
You can carry up to 15 kg of luggage at no cost, which includes a hand carry of 5 kg and a duffle bag of 10 kg. If you carry over this limit, you must pay more. Some airlines might not even allow extra luggage even if you pay.
For these reasons, you should consider limiting your luggage to 15 kg. We advise you to bring your valuables, important documents, and medicines in hand carry and the rest of your luggage in the duffle bag.
What happens if Lukla flights get canceled?
Due to rapid weather fluctuations, mainly due to altitude, the weather at Lukla Airport can change abruptly. If the flight to Lukla gets canceled, it will be rescheduled for the next available flight. Hence, we recommend you add a few extra days to your journey to Lukla, especially at the end of your trip.
Using a helicopter
If the airplane flights to Lukla are canceled, you can use a helicopter, but again, helicopters are allowed to fly only when the visibility is more than 4,900 feet. So, you cannot rely on helicopter rides every time. Moreover, the cost of hiring a helicopter is uncertain and depends on supply and demand.
Currently, the price of hiring a one-way helicopter flight from Kathmandu to Lukla (or Lukla to Kathmandu) ranges from 2,400 to 2,600 USD.
Similarly, a one-way flight from Manthali to Lukla (or Lukla to Manthali) is around 1,800 USD. You might be able to share the helicopter and the costs, but you cannot depend on it.
There is no way to confirm helicopter sharing beforehand. However, you can enquire about this possibility while reserving the helicopter.
Managing the Lukla flight uncertainty
In addition to adding a few days extra for the trek, you can choose an insurance policy that covers unfavorable conditions, such as weather delays and flight delays/cancellations. “Trip interruption” insurance, for instance, can cover extra travel expenses due to rescheduled or canceled flights.
Lukla Airport has played a pivotal role in fostering tourism in Nepal. It serves as the starting point for treks to Everest Base Camp, providing a vital air link for those seeking to explore the breathtaking landscapes of the Khumbu region.
Though the elevation of Lukla Airport makes it one of the highest airports in the world, its unique blend of its size, strategic location, and role in connecting adventurers to the unparalleled wonders of Everest makes Lukla Airport a lifeline for adventurers, trekkers, and nature lovers alike.
It has been doing so for more than sixty years. To this day, Lukla Airport symbolizes adventure and achievement in the heart of the Himalayas.