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The World's Most Dangerous Approach - Paro, Bhutan

- I'm going to fly on Bhutan Airlines 8319 on a flight to Paro.

- Our boarding time is 8:13,

and after the immigration checks, on the right-hand side,

there is the Radisson lounge

and you can use the Radisson lounge, okay?

Have a nice flight, sir.

- [Sam] Thank you.

(upbeat music)

You can use your credit card, a Lounge Key

or a Priority Pass to come to the lounge.

(upbeat music)

Good morning from Kathmandu Airport Lounge.

And today I'm going to fly to Paro, Bhutan.

If you don't know where Bhutan is,

it's a landlocked country in the Himalayas

between China, India, and Nepal.

But as an Aviation geek, Bhutan is very special because

Bhutan is well known for its dangerous

and unique approach in to their airport.

The airport is situated between the mountains in the valley.

So guys, I'm very excited, and let's go and fly.

(aeroplane engine roaring)

- This is our plane, welcome aboard.

- Hot towel sir ?

- [Sam] Thank you.

- What would you like to drink sir?

There's a drink menu.

Please turn to the list, sir.

- [Sam] Orange juice.

(upbeat music)

- Hello, and welcome aboard, Sam.

My name is Chenga,

and I'm the Chief Pilot of Bhutan Airlines.

Today, the flight will be from Kathmandu to Paro.

The flight time will be just about

approximately about 40 minutes.

And today we are expecting to climb at least around,

subject to traffic, around 33,000 or maybe 35,000 feet,

and we're expecting good weather on this route.

And as we, maybe after 15 minutes or so,

we might see Mount Everest, so as we go I'll,

I'll point them out to you.

Thank you, welcome aboard.

(upbeat music)

- Cockpit?

- [Cockpit] Yes, sir?

- We're just scanning hand signals on the right, thank you.

(cockpit responds)

Bye-bye.

(upbeat music)

- Bhutan Air 774 to depart next

(tower responds)

Next to all the plane, the co-run is 02 Bhutan Air 774.

(Chenga speaking softly) Clear, I said.

Next to all the plane a co-run is 02 Bhutan Air 774.

Are we clear to Paro, Gulf 34872708.

This one ground departure, Smoke 2510 Bhutan Air 774.

(plane engine roaring)

Before takeoff check list.

- Right. - Flight controls?

- Check. - Check.

Flight instruments? - Check.

- Check, briefing? - Confirmed.

- Flaps setting? (Chenga speaks softly)

V1, VR, V2, flex temperature? - 1-2-7, 1-2-7, 1-40-8.

- What? - Flex 50.

- 1-2-7, 1-2-7, 1-4-8, flex 5-0.

ATC, set.

ECAM Memo? - I don't know who.

- Down with the 90.

- Today, we are lucky.

Fortunately, not much traffic,

But, most of the time,

because of the traffic conditions

and the parking stands,

we end up holding sometimes for almost

45 minutes or at least one hour.

We can end up waiting for that long but today we are fortunate.

- [Tower] Bhutan Air 774 line up on the 02.

- [Copilot] Line up on the 02, Bhutan Air 774.

(upbeat music) (plane engine roaring)

[Cheng] So we have the backs all green.

(audio from tower) (copilot speaking)

- Runway 02, confirm. (audio from tower]

Cabin crew? - Advised.

(Copilot speaking) - We are ready.

(Cheng and copilot speaking)

- Packs? - On.

- Before lift off checklist? - Done.

- Okay, done.

(upbeat music)

- [Tower] Bhutan Air 774, clear (muffled instructions)

Runway 02, clear for takeoff.

- [Copilot] Take this one (muffled speech)

Clear for takeoff, Runway 02, Bhutan Air 774.

- [Cheng] Are you ready?

Ready? - Ready.

- Ready, go.

- Stabilised. (plan engine revving)

(audio from tower)

- Check.

We're all set.

(plane engine roaring)

- [Tower] 4519 (muffled instructions)

(Copilot and tower conversing)

(plane rattling)

- 3-1.

Rocking.

(plane engine rattling)

All systems light up.

- Yep.

Check.

(audio from tower)

- [Cheng] (speaking softly) Bhutan Air 774

(speaking softly)

- [Tower] Bhutan Air 774

Continue climb to flight level,

2-7-0 continue to climb.

- Correcting the plan level 2-7-0-8 Bhutan Air 774.

(upbeat music)

- [Tower] Bhatan Air 774 input crossing level.

- [Cheng] Crossing 8,300 Bhutan Air 774.

- [Tower] Bhutan 774 identified.

- Between Kathmandu and New Delhi you see almost

the top 10 highest mountains in the world, except K2.

- On the centre,

just between the... within a span of less than

two hours,

you almost see the top 10 highest mountains in the world.

So exactly left of me, that is Cho Oyu.

That is the 6th highest mountain in the world.

And you can see a pointed peak there

with some snow getting blown off.

That is Everest.

That is the highest point around Mount Everest.

The height is measured at 8,850 metres.

And just close to Mt. Everest you see another mountain.

That is Lhotse.

That is supposed to be the 4th highest mountain

in the world, Mount Lhotse.

And the height of Mount Lhotse is 8,516 metres.

The last one that you see

is Mount Makalu.

That is number five, 5th highest mountain in the world.

And the height of Mount Makalu is 8,463 metres.

(upbeat music)

Around twenty years back,

we used to find that this area had a lot of snow.

A lot of snow between this Himalayan range.

But as you can see, you know,

now we don't see much snow.

Sadly, I think that clearly shows

that global warming is taking a big role here.

(upbeat music)

- It's a 40-minute flight.

This is very nice.

This is like a chicken pie here, very nice.

Cheers.

- I'd like to welcome you on board.

- Wow.

- This is something just yours.

- Wow, so nice, thank you so much.

- This is a welcome gift to welcome you to town.

- Wow, look at this.

It says, "Bhutan Airlines welcomes you on board."

Beautiful cake.

Let's enjoy this cake together with all the crew.

The captain, first officer.

You guys are so kind.

Lets share with everyone later when we land in Paro.

- Sure, sir.

- Yeah? Alright, excellent.

Thank you so much.

(soft music)

- [Cheng] There, that's Bhutan Mountain.

The left one is Jomolhari,

that is the second highest mountain in Bhutan.

- [Sam] Oh!

- [Cheng] Yeah,and slightly to the right is Jitchu Drake.

Then we have Masangang, then it's Balonchista.

Sam, so what we are going to do now...

We have just about 14 miles to go

and then we will have the visual.

So normally, once we have the visual, we always turn

this GPWS system off.

Because normally it's a known standard.

We're supposed to follow the instruction of what the...

That means we are close to the mountains.

Since we have the visual, we always turn this one off.

(signal beep)

- GPWS off? - Yeah.

(plane engine roaring)

(beep)

Once you push it, the GPWS will fall.

(mechanical whining) Gear down.

(plane engine roaring)

Bhutan Air 774.

- [Tower] Bhutan Air 774 (muffled instructions).

- So the airport is just here behind this.

Just behind this cloud.

So what we're doing is we're landing on Runway 3-3.

So Sam, our viewer is just over the hill, just over there.

The reason why we had to keep this viewer

is just to get the signal.

Normally, the viewer is right

at the airfield next to the runway.

Here, in order to get the signal,

the concept people are quickly going

in order to get the signal.

So we are just over the hill,

and the airfield is just behind the hill.

- [Sam] Right.

- [Cheng] So what we're doing is

we're trying to lose the height

and trying to fly between the valley.

And then our aim is to...

You can see there's a bridge there.

- [Sam] Yeah.

- That's where we're aiming there

and we're looking for about 12,000 feet.

And we call this a confluence because this is where

two rivers from Thimphu and Paro meet.

So we are heading towards the bridge,

and then we're going to make a slight left turn

and head towards the airfield.

You can see the airfield just now.

Now you don't see it.

You'll see airfield only at the last minute.

Only at the last moment will you be able to see over there,

because of the hills.

- [Sam] Ah, it's hiding.

- It's hiding, yeah.

- [Sam] Yeah.

- Let's do it, the landing checklist.

- [Copilot] Landing checklist.

Cabin crew?

- Advised. - Cabin crew.

- Advised. - Autothrust?

- Speed. - Autobrakes?

ECAM MEMO? - Steady.

- And I'm a Buddhist so I have to pray to God.

And we have a lot of monasteries here.

Can you see there's a lot of monasteries here?

There, one monastery there, one monastery,

and one is below here.

We have a lot of monasteries here.

(plane engine roaring)

- [Electronic Voice] 2,500.

- [Copilot] Bhutan Air 774 (speaking softly).

(plane engine roaring) (mechanical whirring)

- We have a... you can see there's another monastery here.

There, one more monastery, there's Paro Taktsang.

It's a very popular monastery.

And, further left, you can see another monastery.

(plane engine roaring) (solemn music)

- [Electronic Voice] 1,000.

- [Copilot] Flight, stabilised.

- [Electronic Voice] 500.

- [Electronic Voice] 500.

- [Electronic Voice] 200.

- [Electronic Voice] 50.

- [Electronic Voice] 40, 30, 20, retard,

retard, retard, retard.

- [Copilot] Spoilers.

GUSB?

It's in.

(plane engine roaring)

(Copilot speaking softly)

(Audio from tower) (Mechanical clicking)

(Audio from tower)

(upbeat music)

- I never could dream of doing a landing

into Paro, the world's most challenging airport.

I just want to know,

is it only captains that can land at this airport, I heard?

- Yes, only captains are allowed here.

- Only captains allowed.

- Yes, captains are allowed,

and it will take a minimum of at least,

a minimum of eight to 10 years to qualify for the captains.

- Eight to 10 years for first officers-

- Minimum.

- to become a captain to land at this airport.

- Yes, that's minimum.

- I heard also, like, there's only like 15 captains

certified and qualified to land here.

- Approximately, we have local pilots,

about 15, approximately 15 local pilots.

- Thrilling.

It's thrilling, really thrilling.

Until last minute, you turn and you see the runway.

- [Cheng] Welcome to Bhutan.

- [Sam] Amazing, thank you, sir, thank you.

- [Cheng] I'm sure more than landing,

I'm sure you'll enjoy Bhutan, as well.

- Thank you so much for the cake, everyone.

It's so amazing and such an honour

to come to the beautiful country of Bhutan.

(speaking foreign language)

(clapping) - It's a beautiful cake.

(speaking foreign language)

(powerful music)

- I'm already doing plane spotting,

10 minutes after landing.

So this is the beautiful Paro International Airport.

From this view point here, really high up,

you can see the whole terminal.

Beautiful day, and you can also see da tzong,

which is like a palace museum of Paro,

and then you can see the mountains with snow cover.

(plane taking off)

(birds chirping) (plane engine roaring)

(whooshing)

(ding) (popping)