Why Don’t Airplanes Fly Over Tibet?

Aeronautics has progressed to the point where we can now fly at double the speed of sound and scientists want to fly to Mars, but there are a few areas on Earth where planes aren’t allowed to go. Such a place is Tibet. But why Tibet? When it comes to planes flying over this portion of the world, there is a standard aviation rule in place, and there are no odd phenomena to contend with; rather, the concern is the area’s incredibly high mountain ranges. Let’s find out why.

Photo Credits: Adventure Thamserku
Photo Credits: Tibet Explorer

Tibet is also known as the “Roof of the World” because of its massive Tibetan Plateau, which is too high for planes to fly over. The average elevation of “low” places in this section of the world is over 12,000 feet. This is a significant issue because most airlines only provide passengers with 20 minutes of oxygen during decompression in the cabin. This is referred to as the Drift Down Procedure. Descending to 10,000 feet in the Himalayas is considered suicide. Surprisingly, Cathay Pacific is the only airline that has developed viable escape routes over Tibet. Clear air turbulence above the summits could also be a factor. Clear air turbulence is unseen turbulence that is usually associated with jet streams or unstable pockets of air. The mountain’s disruption of airflow causes eddies, which can be highly turbulent if you fly through them. The only way to predict clear air turbulence is to use other aircraft’s experience, which isn’t very common above the Tibetan Plateau. Commercial planes are authorized to fly at a maximum altitude of 28,000 to 35,000 feet (8000 m). The Himalayas have mountains that rise above 20,000 feet on average. At 29,035 feet above sea level, Mt. Everest is the highest peak on the planet. Because of the Himalayan mountain range’s elevation, planes rarely fly over it. Also, in case of an emergency, it is a terrible place to make an emergency landing since emergency landings take place on flat level grounds. There are almost no flat surfaces in the Himalayan region. As a result, in the event of an emergency, the pilot has nowhere to land the plane safely. Furthermore, because there are mountains everywhere, the risk factor simply increases.

Photo Credits: tibetchannel

Despite the horrific effects of flying over this portion of the world, there are still airports in this region, one of which, Paro Airport in Bhutan, has garnered some notoriety. Only eight pilots on the planet are allowed to land on this strip because it is so dangerous. It stands 1.5 miles above sea level, surrounded by 18,000-foot peaks. High winds in the valley create a lot of turbulence. Every year, approximately 30,000 travelers pass via this airport. Although there aren’t many flights to the Himalayas, the Tibetan Autonomous Region nevertheless has two airports. These airports, however, have dangerously short runways that are only suitable for light planes. In addition, the airport is located on the edges of the higher mountain ranges.

Photo Credits: Bhutan Travels