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Flying Unstabilized Approaches Into One Of The World's Most Challenging Airports

Performing a stabilized approach is critical to a safe landing. Plain and simple.

The pilots flying into Paro, Bhutan are faced with a difficult task. They're tasked with flying Airbus A319s into a mountainous airport, banking steeply at 130+ knots around a large hill just before making a landing on Runway 15. But first... What is a stabilized approach and why is it so important?

Stabilized Approach Criteria

Unstabilized approaches are one of the leading causes of accidents on landing. So what can you do to make sure you're stabilized as you approach a runway? A quick and easy way to check yourself is with the acronym C-FLAPS:

  • Checklists complete.
  • Flight path (to the runway), proper.
  • Landing configuration, set.
  • Airspeed, within normal approach criteria.
  • Power setting, adjusted and constant.
  • Sink rate, not abnormal.

It's nearly impossible during a landing on Runway 15 at Paro to have an entirely stabilized approach, especially when you're flying something as fast and large as the A319. These pilots have some serious experience and training to keep their passengers safe during a landing there.

The Airport And Approach

Paro, Bhutan (VQPR) sits at 7,300 feet above sea level and its single runway (15/33) is about 6,500 feet long. That's not too much room for something like an A319! Go-Arounds are difficult here, with terrain in the valley rising an additional 6,000 feet above the valley floor on all sides. In the local area, ridges extend as high as 23,000+ feet, with a charted maximum elevation figure of 24,200 feet.

To land on Runway 15, pilots make a sharp left-hand bank around a hill situated inconveniently along the approach corridor, rolling out just over the threshold.

A View From The Hill

It doesn't matter if you fly an Airbus or a Piper, you should always do your best to shoot the most stable approach possible. Use C-FLAPS when you fly to make a safe landing. And NEVER be afraid to Go-Around.

What do you think? How would you like to be the pilot flying into Paro? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and commercial pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He holds multi-engine and instrument ratings, and is an aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.

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