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The Truth Behind Why Airliners Don’t Fly Over Tibet

Since the Tibetan plateau is the world's highest geographic area, with an average elevation of over 4500 meters, few people live here, earning it the nickname 'The Roof of the World'

BY- JAYA CHOUDHARY

Airplanes can fly for thousands of kilometers across the globe. Rockets have landed men on the moon and Elon Musk plans to land men on Mars within the next couple of years. The world has been made so small by us that it’s easy to overlook some of the neglected parts. For example, planes are constantly flying through the sky almost everywhere on the planet, but if one were to look at a live global air traffic map right now and pan over to Asia, they will see nothing over a large portion of the continent.

Regardless of when this is done, it seems that all of the world’s airplanes are actually avoiding this vast area and going out of their way to fly around it as if it were some forbidden zone to cross or fly into. This is a massive landmass directly above Asia, the world’s most populous continent.

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So, why is this happening?

The dead zone in question is located over the Tibetan plateau, which is one of the world’s largest wastelands, second only to Antarctica and Northern Greenland. The Tibetan plateau is the least hospitable and sparsely inhabited area on the planet for humans to live. It covers a region more than five times the size of France but has a population of just over 14 million people across the seven countries that it scans over. Since the Tibetan plateau is the world’s highest geographic area, with an average elevation of over 4500 meters, few people live here, earning it the nickname “The Roof of the World.”

Fly
The dead zone in question is located over the Tibetan plateau, which is one of the world’s largest wastelands, second only to Antarctica and Northern Greenland. Pixabay

The tag is well-deserved, as the roof of the world has long been one of the world’s most formidable aviation obstacles for decades. During World War II, when allies in what was then British India needed to airlift supplies into China to help them combat the Japanese, the first large-scale attempt to fly across the plateau occurred. Between the two nations, a gap of just over 840 kilometers had to be traveled. But because they were traveling over the remote mountains and the high steps of the Tibetan plateau, the pilots faced extremely violent turbulence, wind speeds up to 200 miles per hour, and temperatures low enough to freeze their fuel.

ALSO READ: The “Roof of The World” Tibetan Plateau May Warm Faster Than Climate Models: Study

All of these dangers combined to create an extremely hazardous flight route, with 594 planes and 1659 men lost in the mountains over the course of 42 months. In some months, up to half of all allied planes flying the route were destroyed in crashes. The plateau was eventually opened up over the decades following WWII. Today, the area is home to two major international airports, and almost every foreign plane traveling between Eastern Asia and the West will make every effort to avoid flying over the Tibetan plateau.

The main reason why planes almost never travel over the plateau to reach their destinations is the simple fact that if they had an emergency while traveling across, it would perhaps be the most dangerous place anywhere over the inhabited earth’s continents to experience it. This reality serves as a reminder that, no matter how advanced, secure, or small our world appears to be, there are still a few wild and remote areas that are dangerous to pass through.

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