Phaplu is a mountainous trekking town located in Salleri-2, Solukhumbu, Nepal and a popular gateway to Everest Base Camp. The town situated at the altitude of 7918 meters features an airport named after it known as Phaplu Airport. Residing at the elevation of 8035 ft. in the lap of magnificent Himalayas, Phaplu Airport is serving the town providing a faster and reliable means of air transportation to the locals and the tourists.
The Phaplu Civil Aviation Office is under the supervision of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. The Airport is a STOLPORT (an airport especially designed for Short Takeoff and Landing Operations) which features blacktopped runway with length of 680 meters and alignment of 02/20. Runway 20 is particularly used for landing purpose whereas the runway 02 is allocated for takeoff. The airport can be termed as a cargo airport as majority of flight includes cargo movement.
Phaplu Airport being one of the iconic airstrips of Nepal features vibrant terrains, constantly changing weather and aggressive wind factor jointly inviting harsh circumstances for flight operations. The airport completes majority of flights by early morning due to the wind behaving vigorous at day time. The weather instrument at the airport’s ATC (Air Traffic Controller) tower has recorded a maximum of 43 knots of gusting wind while the safe airspeed for aircraft in this airport is 10 to 12 knots. Especially, the airport encounters headwind.
Besides, the vicinity of airport contains an uncontrolled ATC, a small terminal building, a parking ramp and cargo handling area. The parking ramp can accommodate maximum of two aircraft however; it is designed for holding only one aircraft at a time.
Flight transportation is much easier and preferable than road transportation to reach Phaplu so, the domestic airlines of Nepal; Nepal Airlines, Tara Air and Goma Air operate their flights to Phaplu Airport. The nearest airports from Phaplu are Lukla Airport, Kangeldanda Airport and Tumlingtar Airport. The adverse weather conditions at Lukla airport sometime divert the flights to Phaplu proving the Phaplu Airport to be an effective alternative.
On 23rd April 2017, Sita Air Dornier ‘9N-AHR’ met a minor incident at Phaplu Airport when it was trying to backtrack. Flight 617 with 17 people on board was enroute to Lukla from Kathmandu but the bad weather at Lukla compelled it to divert to nearest Phaplu Airport. Unfortunately, the aircraft collided with the wall at the runway while the flight crews were attempting to backtrack. Shree Airlines MI-17 helicopter was parked approximately 20m from the runway. The Dornier aircraft suffered damage in its wing tip when the crew attempted to avoid collision with the parked MI-17. Lack of significant safety concern is expected to be the reason behind the incident. The incident didn’t create destruction but questioned the safety practices at the airport.
Previously, Phaplu Airport had a graveled runway. In 2014 the airport was upgraded to a full blacktopped runway. People living in the southern belt of Solukhumbu had to use Kangal airport, a five-hour walk from Phaplu after the enhancement project shut down the Phaplu Airport.
The airport has now become beneficial for the town and its local residents and also to the tourists especially arriving Phaplu for Everest Base Camp trek. Besides, Salleri (headquarter of Solukhumbu District) is blissful to have a fully operating airport in its vicinity.