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  • Day23

    Kathmandu to Paro, Bhutan

    November 13, 2019 in Nepal ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    It has been an easier travel day as we upgraded ourselves to business class for the Druk Air flights and had the use of the lounge before our departure. Also Royal Bhutanese Airlines (Druk Air) was on time. That makes things way easier.

    We boarded an Airbus A319, like the kind I used to fly and the same kind Robert my son currently operates. Paro, our destination airport is considered one of the most difficult airports in the world to operate in and out of, so I introduced myself to the Captain, to see if I thought she had what it takes to do such a thing. She built my confidence immediately when I learned she had 12 years experience flying for Druk Air. She asked where I was sitting and said it might be possible to sit in the flight deck for landing. I told her not to break any rules, but I would appreciate the opportunity.

    It was a very pleasant flight with a view of the Himalayan mountains. The top of Everest was capped in cloud, but other high peaks were visible. On descent I went to the washroom and when I came out, the cockpit door was open. The captain invited me in. I sat down in the jump seat, put on my harness and a headset and adjusted the volume for ATC. Paro airport is 7400 feet in elevation and has a single runway that is oriented 15/33. It is 6000 feet long. Paro is located in a valley with steep mountains surrounding it. When I sat down we were descending through 18000 feet. The pilots were using the FMS for a cloud breaking procedure, but visibility was unlimited. The minimums for the cloud breaking procedure are 13500. After we descended through 13500 the GPWS was turned off and the visual part of the approach was flown still using auto pilot. We approached Paro airport from the south and could clearly see the runway. Wind was favouring runway 15 so when we were directly over head tower gave us clearance to land and we proceeded outbound from the airport and continue to descend. All of this was done with flaps 2 and gear down selected over the airport. Autopilot was turned off, flaps 3 selected as we now are turning 180 degrees in the valley. As we turn back to the airport, you can no longer see it because it is hidden by a hill on the approach end. Landing flap selected and heading 180 we clear the hill by about 200 feet. Once by the hill, the runway is now in sight again but a final turn of 30 degrees is needed to line up for runway 15. This happens about 500 feet AGL. The missed approach altitude is 18000 feet and would be visually flown if required. Touch down is firm and we clear at the end. Night time approaches are prohibited. Day VFR only. This is Druk Airs main hub. They fly to Singapore from here, which is their longest flight.
    I thanked the Captain for her professional courtesy and got my stuff joining Dianne and our friends. Customs clearance was the easiest yet for this trip and we were soon on our way to Thimphu in a van.

    Ps, Tom forgot to mention I enjoyed the flight as well from the back. I didn’t get the view he had but at least I took some pictures!
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    The happiest place on earth for a pilot “flaps 3 selected turning 180 degrees in the valley”! I wonder where Dianne’s happiest place will be? Party On, Al and Yoly.