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  • Airplanes can travel for thousands of kilometers across the world.

  • Rockets have landed men on the moon, and Elon Musk wants the land men on Mars.

  • Within the next couple years, the world has been made so small by us that it's easy to overlook some of the for gotten parts.

  • For example, airplanes are traveling through.

  • This guy's pretty much everywhere on Earth at all times.

  • But if you were to open up a live global air traffic map right now and pan over to Asia, you'll see nothing over this massive area of the continent.

  • Regardless of whenever you do this, it always appears that all of the world's airplanes are simply avoiding this huge area and going out of their way to fly around it like it's some kind of forbidden zone to travel over or fly through.

  • And it's not like this is the middle of the ocean.

  • This is a huge area of land directly over Asia, the world's most heavily populated continent.

  • So why is this happening?

  • Well, there's a lot of reasons, but before we get into that, you need to know about aviation history in the region.

  • The dead zone in question is over a geographic region known as the Tibetan Plateau, and it's one of the world's biggest wastelands.

  • After Antarctica and northern Greenland.

  • The Tibetan plateau is the least hospitable place for humans to live in the entire world and is the most sparsely populated.

  • It's an area that's over five times larger than France, but only has a population of a little over 14 million people across the seven countries that it spans over.

  • So few people live here because the plateau's average elevation is over 4500 m tall, making the Tibetan plateau the highest geographic region in the world and earning it the nickname the roof of the world.

  • The nickname is aptly deserved because the roof of the world has been one of the world's biggest obstacles to aviation for decades.

  • The first large scale attempt to fly across the plateau was during the Second World War, when the allies in what was then British India needed to airlift supplies into China to assist them in the fight against the Japanese.

  • The route wasn't especially far simply from eastern India into Kunming in China, a distance of just a little over 840 kilometers.

  • But because they were flying over the remote mountains and high steps of the Tibetan plateau, the pilots faced extremely violent turbulence.

  • Wind speeds up to 200 MPH.

  • Temperatures cold enough to freeze their fuel, implement weather events that were difficult to predict, and almost no emergency airports that they could divert to in the event of an accident, let alone the occasional intervention of Japanese fighters.

  • All of these hazards added up to an incredibly dangerous flight path that over the time span of 42 months saw 594 planes and 1659 men who were lost in the mountains never to be seen again.

  • The vast majority of these losses were a simple result of the dangerous elements the pilots were flying through, and not a result of enemy action and for reference.

  • The loss in life for the Allied aircrews here was even higher than during the entire battle of Britain against the Germans.

  • In some months, as many as 50% of all allied planes that flew the route were crashing, which would obviously not exactly be unacceptable loss rate toe a modern airliner today.

  • Luckily for the modern airliners, the Tibetan plateau has been gradually opened up in the decades since the Second World War.

  • The first airport in Chinese Tibet was built in 1956 and the modern airport in the Tibetan capital Lhasa was built a decade later in 1965.

  • Today, there are two significant international airports located on the Tibetan Plateau in La Hossa, and joining both of these airports primarily handled domestic air travel to and from the rest of China but low.

  • Hossa has a single international flight to Kathmandu while joining maintains flights to Taipei, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur.

  • So it's true that there sometimes our planes flying over the Tibetan Plateau in modern times.

  • But almost every international flight between Eastern Asia and the West will go out of their way to avoid flying over it.

  • Take this flight, this flight or this flight just as a handful of examples.

  • So now that we've gone through some history, lessons.

  • Why do most airliners continue to avoid flying over Tibet on their longer flights today, despite the existence of modern international airports And, you know, being able to actually fly over the mountains, it ultimately comes down to four primary reasons that we're going to go through, the first of which is the stupidly huge risk during emergency situations.

  • Think about it like this.

  • The average elevation of the Tibetan plateau is well over 14,000 ft, and airliners usually cruise at over 30,000 ft.

  • Normally not a problem but under certain critical emergency situations, like a cabin depressurization or engine failure event.

  • Airline protocol is to descend down to 10,000 ft in a cabin depressurization scenario.

  • The plane will drop oxygen mask for passengers to breathe, but there's only a limited supply, generally only around 20 minutes.

  • This is intended to be enough time for the passengers toe last breathing on while the plane descends down to 10,000 ft, where normal breathing conditions can be resumed now.

  • Obviously, this isn't possible anywhere over the vast Tibetan plateau that's over five times the size of France because the average elevation is over 14,000 ft, meaning that if a plane descended down to 10,000 ft as protocol demands, it would almost certainly crashed into the side of a mountain.

  • And everyone would die if a cabin depressurization happens over Tibet, the only nearby major international airport safe enough and close enough for most big airliners to divert to in an emergency Arla HASA joining Kathmandu, Chengdu, Urumqi and Almaty.

  • These airports are all hundreds, orthe thousands of kilometers away from each other, and they mostly ring around the uninhabited plateau when a plane flies from Kathmandu to low HASA.

  • For example, Kathmandu and low HASA are each the alternate emergency airport.

  • In addition to being the destination in 2018 a Sichuan Airlines flight was flying from Chongqing to the HASA across the plateau at 30,000 ft when a window blew out and it suffered a depressurization event.

  • Fortunately, the pilots weren't very far across into the plateau, so they were able to quickly turn around and divert to the airport at Chengdu for an emergency landing within 35 minutes of the depressurization happening.

  • The deeper an emergency like this happens into the plateau, the mawr dangerous the emergency becomes because of how far away, you could get from any airports to divert Thio leading to longer.

  • Time's up in the air without any oxygen.

  • This leads us into problem number two for why airplanes don't fly over to bet.

  • There's just nobody that really lives there, so there isn't really a very big demand.

  • Long haul international flights between Europe and Asia will avoid flying over Tibet because they don't want to risk having an emergency situation while flying over it.

  • But there aren't that many shorter domestic flights, either, because there's just so few people there.

  • The Tibet Autonomous Region in China has just a little over three million people who live across the entire massive area, meaning that despite to bet taking up almost 13% of China's total land, it only accounts for 0.2% of China's total population.

  • The next two reasons why long haul flights avoid flying over Tibet are bad turbulence and the risk of jet fuel freezing.

  • When fast winds move across the plateau and the mountains, the wind will often take a wave shaped pattern that looks like this, and when airplanes flight through this wind pattern, the turbulence could get extremely bumpy, which can further complicate any emergency scenarios.

  • And finally, there's the problem of jet fuel.

  • Theoretically, jet fuel freezes when the temperature gets below minus 40 Celsius.

  • And while extremely cold conditions like that rarely take place anywhere the jets fly, the temperatures in the air above the already high and cold Tibetan plateau can get to that point or worse.

  • This isn't really a problem for a short flight through, but for longer flights across the plateau that might last for six hours or more, this could become a really significant problem.

  • Ultimately, the big reason why airplanes almost always avoid flying over the Tibetan plateau to get to their destinations isn't because of any supernatural curse or something like that, but a simple, really quality that if they were to experience an emergency well flying across it would perhaps be the most dangerous place anywhere over the inhabited Earth's continents to experience it.

  • It's a reminder that despite how advanced, connected, safe and small our world may seem, there's still a few wild and remote areas left that are dangerous for us to travel through.

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B1 plateau tibetan emergency tibet flying flight

Why Planes Don't Fly Over Tibet

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/10/24
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