Passengers boarding a SpiceJet Bombardier Q400 aircraft
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‘Flying to Pakyong in Sikkim has to be among the world’s best’

The tabletop unidirectional runway requires skilled pilots to land at the airport: An EastMojo citizen reporter recalls his experience on-board a Bombardier Q400 from Guwahati

Guwahati/Pakyong: The flight from Guwahati to Pakyong has to be among the best in the world. On a clear day, the view of Mt Kanchendzonga and its adjoining peaks is breathtaking. The cellphone video that I’ve shared does not do justice.

I was expecting a bumpy ride but the flight was surprisingly smooth. I am sure it will be a different story during the monsoons.

This flight cuts the travel time Guwahati to Gangtok by over five hours. Earlier, it was a quick 45-minute flight to Bagdogra, followed by a four-hour drive to the capital of Sikkim. Flight services between the two cities started only on October 24.

As a hotelier from the region, we can certainly hope for an increase in the number of flights operating to Pakyong. This will bring in corporate and premium tourists into Sikkim. Today, because of connectivity, many in this segment avoid Sikkim. We are hoping for flights to Delhi to start in January.

Interviewing a SpiceJet pilot, I got the lowdown on the ground reality of Pakyong Airport. I quote Gaurav, the pilot: “The only tactical difficulty here is the mountainous terrain and that the runway length is short. It is also a uni-run extra runway, so the winds are generally tailwinds. We preferably need headwinds for our landing. And due to tailwinds, it requires better skills at handling the aircraft during landing and touchdown. So, right now we are only sending experienced pilots.”

Gaurav says the tabletop unidirectional runway requires skilled and experienced pilots to operate. Landing at this airport, as it is with all tabletop runways, requires visual landing, so there is no instrument support. When it’s cloudy and the visibility drops, flights cannot operate unlike metro airports (like Delhi), which operate even during extreme low visibility with the help of instruments. A minimum of 5-km visibility is required for flights to take off and land.

An RNP (required navigation performance) approach that’s based on GPS and satellites is being implemented in Pakyong, which will make landings easier in future.