Until just over 40 years ago the eastern Himalayan region of the Solukhumbu leading to Mt. Everest was inaccessible to most air traffic. The way to reach the heights of the trailhead in Lukla was to travel the road from Kathmandu to Jiri, then hike five days over the rugged lowland hills. In 1964 Sir Edmund Hillary initiated construction of the Lukla airfield (LUA), and from that time the area has been opened up to countless enthused hikers. It is a great convenience to bypass the arduous hike beyond Jiri since it the hike beyond Lukla is challenging enough for most. Lukla is now a vibrant and welcoming entryway to the Himalayas.
The landing strip itself is an amazing sight considering that it is built on the steep incline of a hillside. It is 1,476 feet long and leaves no room for error. Pilots throw their propellers into hard reverse before they touch down and gun the engines as they race down the hill for takeoff. Considering the extreme landscape it was the best candidate for the engineers to construct the facility. The strip is at an elevation of 9,100 feet with a an abrupt drop off down to a river valley below. The approach is through a maze of spectacular mountain peaks and the air is often cluttered with clouds.
Lukla is Nepal's busiest domestic airport, and in the peak season the airlines
operate over 50 flights a day through the facility. The busiest airlines are
Sita, Yeti, and Cosmic, and The typical aircraft that fly in are DHC-6 Twin
Otters, Dorniers, and Beech 1900s. The Royal Nepali Army sends a fair amount
of traffic there as well with Russian model MI-17 and AN-24 transport aircraft.
In recent years due to the political climate the Nepalese military has built
up heavy fortifications around the airport to protect against attacks and disruption.