If the Paro International Airport is the second best in the world, it also qualifies as the world’s scariest runway.
Just after a UK-based travel magazine rated Paro as second to Changi airport in Singapore, for customer service satisfaction, a leading Australian travel magazine, ‘Travel and Leisure’ rated Paro as the scariest runway of the world in 2008. The airport located at 7,300 feet above the sea level is known to cause nail biting, gut dropping, hair-raising moments when landing. Travel and Leisure attribute the cropped Paro valley, high peaks, and flights through a narrow channel between hills for making it the scariest runway.
At home, a Druk Air captain said that the airport runway is scary because of its narrow size. He added the narrow valley and high altitude as additional reasons.
The international size of a runway breadth is 45 m. At Paro airport it’s only 30 m. According to the captain, the runway size is narrow because of geographical settings. “Rivers and paddy fields flanked on all sides make the situation very tricky,” he said.
“Being the scariest airport runway is the viewpoint of travelers visiting the country for the first time, since the airport is surrounded by mountainous terrain, they get alarmed,” said the Deputy Director of Civil Aviation, Karma Wangchuk. He said that the runway meets the standard size for Airbus. “An additional 5 metre shoulders both sides of the runway breadth making it almost 40 m,” he said, adding that the manoeuvring area however would be difficult for bigger aircrafts.
The airport uses a system known as visual flight rules (VFS), which means that no plane can be permitted to land if the pilot cannot see the runway. Karma Wangchuk said that pilots were experienced in handling the area. “New pilots can’t make it on their own, they are assisted by an experienced pilot and take a stimulus course before flying,” he said.
Travel and Leisure says that only 8 pilots are qualified to fly in Bhutan. According to the captain, planes that fly in from outside require Bhutanese pilots to help them navigate the area, because local pilots have knowledge of the landscape.