Kathmandu is Nepal’s only international airport and by far its busiest airport. 6 km away from the city center, in 2018 it handled approximately 7.2 million passengers and most of its operations are domestic flights that connect the capital with several airports through the country. Even though some of these flights only take 30 minutes, they are still a better choice than to travel by land, where the journey can take hours due to the hilly landscape of Nepal. The airport has two terminals, on separated buildings, one domestic and one international.
Nepal’s domestic aviation is on growing trend and the main reason for a visit to the airport. The airport is surprisingly busy with domestic flights, operated by airliners that are never (or rarely) seen outside the country. Besides Nepal Airlines, Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines are the biggest domestic operators, operating ATR and BAe Jetstreams respectively. International traffic sees a strong presence of airlines from India, with Air India and Jet Airways being the bigest ones, Middles East, with FlyDubai and Qatar Airways operating at least 2 daily flights each, and then China. Turkish Airlines operates the only scheduled flight to Europe (a daily A330). Other widebody operations include Thai (B777-200), AirAsia X (A330-300) and Qatar Airways (A330-300 – night flight)
Since the airport is very close to the city center, it’s best to take a printed map of the airport and point it out to a taxi driver. From Thamel (city center) you can agree a price with the taxi driver of about 400 Nepali Rupees (3,20€) to take you to the spot. With taximeter it would be even cheaper, but usually they don’t like to use it. There are plenty of taxis, so there is no need to rent a car or wonder about bus schedules.
Written by Rui Miguel and Gerrit Griem. Last visit March 2019
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|Airport Information||Runways||02 / 20|
|All the domestic flights||All the international flights|
|Spotting Information||Ladder||No need|
|Restrooms||Available on publicly accessible buildings like restaurants.|
|Drinks/Food||Available on both spots, you will find plenty of small mini markets with snacks and drinks.|
|Hotels||The Airport Hotel is just across the International terminal, but you will find many more, and cheap options in city center, which is only 6 km away.|
|Season||October – December is considered high season. There are more flights as plenty of sunshine|
|Runway Usage||02/20||International flights will only land on runway 02, so when there is one approaching, all the domestic flights will also proced for RWY 02 (they mostly make visual aproaches, resulting in tight turns to final). During the morning there is a long period without international arrivals, so the domestic traffic will use RWY 20. Sometimes even with RWY 02 in use, there will be some departures from RWY 20.|
|Spot #1 – Jadibuti, Arrivals 02 Morning|
|WHERE||Take a taxi to Jadibuti and ask to stop as soon as you pass by the southern part of the airport. Take the dirt road next to the fence until you reach the spot. This area has a lot of houses and is a bit dirty, but the locals didn’t seem bothered by having me taking photos of the planes. The fence is covered with bushes and trees, so you can’t be seen from inside the airport. I was taking photos on an area without the bushes and the military saw me and told me not to take photos. So I moved to a more protected area.|
|WHAT||Great spot for RWY 02 arrivals, however you can’t see the departing RWY 02 traffic. All the departing RWY 20 traffic will pass above you.|
|TIME||From sunrise until 10:30.|
|MISC.||There are some shops with cheap food. The fence is about 2-2,5m high but it’s still possible to take photos without a ladder through the mesh.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||100mm = DHC-6, 80mm = ATR-42, 55mm = A320.|
|Spot #2 – Koteshwor, Arrivals 02 Afternoon|
|WHERE||From spot 1 you can just walk to this spot in a matter of minutes. If you are arriving from the city center, ask taxi driver to stop as soon as you see many buses on your left side next to the airport fence. This is a very busy area, where a main road intersects the road that goes around the airport. Next to that intersection you will see a small grass area in the middle of the road and squezed by cars passing in front and behind you. That’s the spot!|
|WHAT||Excellent for RWY 02 arrivals, you can see and monitor departing traffic from RWY 02.|
|TIME||From 13:00 until the end of the day.|
|MISC.||On the road behind there are plenty of shops, some with restrooms. In Kathmandu there is a lot of dust, and in this place, you will feel it more than in the previous. Also expect a lot of noise from car horns (normal thing in Kathmandu). There were two traffic wardens managing the cars and people but they didn’t seem to care about me taking photos.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||55mm = A310, 70mm = B737-700, 155mm = Cessna 208|
|Spot #3 – Rooftops|
|WHERE||If you are not a fan of the angles of the previous locations you can get on one of the many many rooftops of one of the private and business houses at the approach of 02.|
Just ask if you can get up. In the morning we find a private house approximate in the are as marked on the map. If you weren`t lucky at the first attempt try again at another house.
For the afternoon we went on the top of a medical center which is along the main road just a bit north of the location #2.
|WHAT||Excellent for RWY 02 arrivals.|
|TIME||All day long.|
|MISC.||The afternoon position is along of a major road with plenty of restaurants. Usually the locals understand some english.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||Morning: ATR72 = 110mm; B738 = 75mm|
Afternoon: ATR72 = 175mm, B738 = 120mm