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Bhutan's intl airport has world's scariest runway

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THIMPHU (PTI): Bhutan's only international airport - Paro - has gained the dubious distinction of having the world's scariest runway as the flights have to pass through a narrow channel between hills for landing.

Paro, located at 7,300 feet above sea level, is known to give nail-biting and hair-raising moments to passengers during landing.

The airport, which has been rated the second best in the world after Singapore's Changi for customer satisfaction by a UK-based travel magazine Wanderlust, has been also named for having the scariest runway in the world in 2008 by a leading Australian travel magazine Travel and Leisure.

Travel & Leisure attributed the cropped Paro valley, high peaks and flights through a narrow channel between hills for making it the scariest runway.

"Being the scariest airport runway is the viewpoint of travellers visiting Bhutan for the first time, since it is surrounded by mountainous terrain, they get alarmed," said deputy director of civil aviation Karma Wangchuk.

According to him, the runway which is only 30 m wide meets the standard size for Airbus. As per the international standards the runway breadth should be 45 m.

"An additional five metre shoulders both sides of the runway breadth makes it almost 40 m," Wangchuk said adding the manoeuvring area, however, would be difficult for big aircraft.

The airport uses a system known as visual flight rules (VFS) for landing, according to which no plane can be permitted to land if the pilot cannot see the runway. Karma Wangchuk said that the pilots were experienced in handling the area. "New pilots can't make it on their own, they are assisted by an experienced pilot and take a stimulus course before flying," he said.

On the airport being named the second best for customer satisfaction, Wangchuk said, "We have a customer service committee at the airport that looks after customers exclusively. The whole team at the airport has to be credited because passenger comfort and services have been one of our main priorities." More than 91 per cent of Wanderlust readers voted for Paro airport.

The terminal building, with its unique style and design, friendliness of staff, the duration from aircraft to airport and cleanliness also added to the rating, he said.

On the other hand, the national airline, Druk Air, is seeing a drop in passenger traffic since the beginning of the year.

As per the latest statistics, Druk Air carried 8.4 per cent fewer passengers in January 2009 than in January 2008. The airline carried 9,333 passengers in the first month of the year as compared to 10,189 in the same month last year.

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