Paro Airport in Bhutan is 1.5 miles above sea level and surrounded by sharp peaks of up to 18,000 feet tall.
So treacherous is the landing that only eight pilots in the world are qualified to land there. Until July 2011, just one airline, Druk Air, was allowed to use the facility.
The runway is just 6,500 feet long – one of the few in the world shorter than their elevation above sea level.
Planes have to weave through the dozens of houses that are scattered across the mountainside – coming within feet of clipping the roofs.
Strong winds whip through the valleys, often resulting in severe turbulence. Passengers who have been on flights to the airport have described the landing as ‘terrifying’.
Boeing has said that Paro airport is ‘one of the world’s most difficult for take offs and landings’.
Flights are only allowed during the daytime and under visual meteorological conditions – strict light allowances in which the pilot must make his judgements by eye rather than rely on instruments as is the case in nighttime flights.
Despite the perilous conditions, the views over the clear blue waters over the Paro river and the lush green foliage of the Himalayas are breathtaking.
An estimated 30,000 tourists use the airport each year, often for holidays in Bhutan. Yongphulla Airport in Trashigang District is the only other airstrip in the country, which is yet undergoing re-construction.
Buddha Air is the only international airline to use the airport. Anybody flying to Paro must first land in neighbouring countries then catch a connecting flight.
Paro Airport in Bhutan might look beautiful but it is one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
The approach to Paro is unbelievably complicated. It is flown visually through a valley with high mountains all around and no sight of the airport until the last moment..
Approach to runway 15, marked in red, is worse in this regard..
The approach to runway 33, marked in blue, allows a bit more of a straight final, but not by much. In either case the aircraft must emerge from the turn with correct altitude, speed and rate of descent. So the pilot has to know landmarks in the valley and how to judge correct approach profile by them. The approaches also often involve turning around higher in the valleys which again must be done by landmarks at places where it is known to be possible. It is this knowledge pilots have to demonstrate before they can attempt the approach. Pilots have to receive special training to be permitted to fly there .. and only 8 pilots in the world are qualified to get permitted.