Can you imagine how it would feel to zig-zag through the mountains as a pilot? Flying is not always a pleasant experience - and landing is probably the hardest part. However, if a routine landing can get nerve-wracking, think how you would feel if you had to land at the tiny Paro airport in Bhutan.
The runway is located in a valley surrounded by high mountains, some of which rise to a height of more than 5,000 meters. For this reason, it is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world, and only about 24 pilots are allowed to land there.
The runway itself is incredibly short
What is more, the natural topography in the area of the airport means that it is impossible to land there using a guided landing system, which ensures a degree of safety. This type of system includes transmitters on the ground that transmit to receivers on the plane. In this way, they are used for both horizontal and vertical guidance.
Landing systems allow pilots to safely land planes even when they are in low-visibility conditions. However, at Faro Airport the only device the pilots can rely on is their eyes.
During the challenging landing, pilots must zigzag between the mountains and make their way while relying on predetermined landmarks on the ground that help them orient themselves. And after all these difficulties, it turns out that the runway itself is incredibly short.
The fateful 30 seconds
All these reasons require the pilots to fly at a very precise speed and altitude, according to those landmarks on the ground. In fact, the last turn in the approach process of the plane to land is made only about 30 seconds before the plane's wheels touch the runway.
The pilots who are allowed to land at Faro undergo very strict training, which includes working in simulators as well as successfully performing take-offs and landings on the spot, in an airplane without passengers. It should be noted that, unlike light planes, large passenger planes are not designed to perform such extreme maneuvers, so this landing is difficult even for those licensed pilots who have a lot of experience in the same route.
Therefore, the landing conditions have to be perfect - and at this airport it is not possible to land at night, during poor visibility, or when there are strong winds. It looks like even if someone sneezes a little too hard near the runway, there will be trouble.