First of all, happy new year and merry Christmas. So in this one, we will look into the challenges faced by high altitude flying. So this includes take-off /landing from a high altitude like mountains and not the cruise phase of any flight which takes place at about 30,000-48,000fts.
The first big hurdle is not the airplanes, it is the mountains themselves. You need to make an airport before starting flights. For this, you need to clear a patch of mountain land and make runways and airport facilities. As this is very expensive, these airports tend to have a shorter runway than usual. Eg. Lukla Airport which is in the middle of the Himalayas is at a height of 9,300 ft and has a runway of 527m with a slope of 11% ( this means for every 100m, altitude will change by 11 ft.) while 2% slope is standard for the industry. Although if there’s a plateau, this problem can be countered and you have acres of flat land.
The second hurdle is low air density. At altitudes, the density of air is lower than that at sea level. So this means engines need to work more during the takeoff and landings and this means that fuel consumption will be more and wearing will also be more which will indeed increase the costs.
The third hurdle is navigation. Navigation through the mountain ranges is very tricky. Pilots have to navigate through the mountains manually and land on their own. This is because autopilot or the plane’s system are not meant to fly at these altitudes. That’s why in most cases only the top captains are allowed to fly in these airports. Eg. Leh in India and Paro Airport in Bhutan are only “Captain’s landing”
The fourth major hurdle is going against the computer. So this is kind of the same as the third one. Airplane’s system knows that it is not meant to fly in those treacherous conditions, so at the time of landing, airplane greets you with loads of alarms and sirens. That is why only small planes are operated here. Yet there are some
Most of these challenges are not faced if it’s a plateau except the low air density one. Some of the highest airports in the world are indeed built on a plateau. As the technology modernises, we will get newer ways to improve connectivity.
Paro airport landing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbLHah4XUwk
Leh airport stories: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3wGDoo8LCg
Happy holidays and wishing you all a very happy new year.
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