Welcome to Leh Airbase!
ICAO: VILH || IATA: IXL
Elevation: 3,256 m / 10,682 ft
This is a comprehensive and easy guide for pilots and controllers wishing to fly and/or control at India’s highest and most challenging commercial airport: Leh Airbase.
Leh Airbase is the 23rd highest commercial airport in the world. It has the most challenging approach in India - a unidirectional approach to Runway 07. Due to the mountainous terrain, operations to and from Leh airspace, and part of the route segment, are only approved for VFR (visual flight rules). Also, all commercial flights usually land and take off only in the morning, due to the presence of high winds in the afternoon.
The airfield is operated by the Indian Air Force, with a civil enclave of the Airports Authority of India for commercial passenger traffic, called the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Terminal. Airport security is provided by the Indian Army. Hence, much of the information for Leh Airbase is classified or unavailable, including official arrival/departure and approach charts, airfield information, etc.
Leh has three aprons and eight military tie-downs. There is no pushback available at Leh in real life, and there are no connecting taxiways between Aprons 1 and 2, so care should be taken when choosing a parking spot. Details of the parking spots are as follows:
Apron 1 corresponds to the single terminal for commercial aircraft with two parking spots (Apron 1-1 and Apron 1-2) at the terminal. These should be used cautiously and parking must be done with great precision, as pushback is not available at VILH.
It is not recommended to have two aircraft at Apron 1 at the same time, however, if such a situation does arise, It is recommended for the aircraft at Apron 1-2 to taxi first, with a tight left turn after startup.
Aircraft parked at Apron 1-1 (northern parking) should park facing the terminal, as shown below:
Aircraft parking at Apron 1-2 (southern parking) should park parallel to the terminal, as shown below:
Apron 2 is jointly used for military and commercial traffic, and has seven spots for parking. It is a fairly standard row-style parking area, as shown below:
All aircraft must park facing south, on Apron 2 as no pushback is available, so you can start up and directly announce your taxi to Runway 25.
Apron 3 is the westernmost apron, and is generally used only for military traffic. However, if there are unrealistically high traffic levels (as there often are, in Infinite Flight), it can be used for commercial traffic as well. The layout is identical to Apron 2, with seven spots for parking, as shown below:
Eight military tie-downs are available in a herringbone-style layout at the beginning of Runway 25 for fighter aircraft. Oversized military aircraft like the C130J or the C-17 Globemaster cannot be parked there, and must be parked at Apron 2 or 3. The military tie-downs are shown in Infinite Flight below:
Below is a list of airlines and aircraft, that operate at Leh:
-Air India: Airbus A319/20/21 -Go First: Airbus A320 -IndiGo: Airbus A320 -Vistara: Airbus A320 -SpiceJet: Boeing 737-900 -Jet Airways: Boeing 737-900 -Indian Air Force: Lockheed C-130J-30 -Indian Air Force: Boeing C-17 Globemaster
Apart from these, you can also use any fighter aircraft of your choice.
Leh has a single runway used for bi-directional operations. All approaches are to be made to Runway 07, and all departures are from Runway 25. A rough taxiway diagram is provided below:
Please note that in Infinite Flight, VILH does not have a Ground frequency. Both pilots and controllers are hence advised to familiarise themselves with this portion of the guide thoroughly.
For all commercial traffic, Taxiway B is to be used by arrivals, for exiting the runway, and Taxiway A is to be used by departures, for entering and lining up. For military traffic, there are two other taxiways that can be used to access Apron 2 and 3, as well as a separate taxiway for fighters for the military tie-downs.
Pilots must use all available runway for lining up and taking off, as this is a high-altitude airport, and difficult takeoff conditions must be expected. Do not lose runway length while setting takeoff thrust due to the negative runway slope. Also, due to the high altitude, expect to use more thrust than usual for taxiing.
When taxiing, it is important to note that there are no taxiway connections between Apron 1 and Apron 2. When you exit at Taxiway B as shown above, you can either continue straight, which will lead you to Apron 2, or you can turn right, which will lead you to Apron 1. Military aircraft are advised to exit earlier, if possible.
As there is no Ground frequency at Leh, ATC controllers and pilots must both keep a sharp eye on taxiing aircraft, and try to make sure that they are clear all the way to the runway before leaving the parking spot. Holding short is not advisable and will only create bottlenecks. Also note that pushback services are not available at Leh. All aircraft are to taxi in and out under their own power.
Now we come to the most anticipated part of this airport - the approach! Here’s the catch - there are no official charts available for VILH, not even with Jeppesen, as this is a military-controlled airfield. However, the International Virtual Aviation Organisation (IVAO) has provided suitable approach and departure procedures, which we can use in Infinite Flight.
For this approach, we will have to create custom waypoints by using ForeFlight or editing a .fpl file through Skyvector, or simply use GPS coordinates. If you don’t know how to do this, here’s some great resources for both the ForeFlight/FPL method and the GPS coordinate method.
For convenience’s sake, I will use the GPS coordinate method for this tutorial. So here’s a rough chart, for the approach, which you can follow:
All approaches start at the waypoint LELAX. The waypoint LH01 is not depicted on the chart. For Infinite Flight, simply copy and paste the following flight plan:
LELAX 3319N/7802E 3400N/7739E LLH 3408N/7733E 3411N/7729E 3408N/7727E 3407N/7729E VILH
Each GPS waypoint corresponds to the waypoint name in the chart. For example, 3319N/7802E is LH01, 3400N/7739E is LH02 and so on.
Now all you have to do, is add altitudes to your flight plan, as shown in the table above. Start with 23,000 feet for LH01, then 16,000 feet at LH02t, then 14,500 feet at LH03, and so on, all the way down to VILH. Do not add any altitude value at the waypoint LLH (Leh VOR) - your VNAV will take care of the descent.
Let the autopilot fly you down to LH05. However, you should be at a Flaps 3 configuration over LLH itself, so plan your flaps extension accordingly. When you’re descending to LH05 (aka, ‘on base’), get into a landing configuration and put down your gear.
It is highly recommended to make the turn from LH05 to LH06 by hand, and hand-fly the rest of the approach. That way you will have a lower probability of the autopilot flying you into a mountain in case you are too fast. Keep a sharp eye on your airspeed, and do not go below 145 knots, or above 165 knots. Perform a regular VFR landing once established on final. The runway is on a bit of a table-top, so expect the ground to come up at you quickly. You might find that you need more throttle/power than usual, due to the high altitude. And of course - don’t forget to arm your spoilers for landing!
In case you are not stabilised by 10,900 feet, you must perform a go-around. Your go-around setting should be at full power, and Flaps 1. Perform a climbing right turn tracking a heading of 100º. Continue climbing to LH01 at FL230, then put down your flaps to Flaps 5 (or 1+F). Then turn left, come back to LH02, and carry out a normal approach again.
All departures from Leh have to be made from Runway 25. The departure has to be mostly hand-flown in terms of lateral navigation. Here’s a chart to help you with how the flow goes:
And here’s the plan to copy and paste into Infinite Flight:
VILH 3407N/7729E 3408N/7727E 3411N/7723E 3411N7717E 3412N/7713E 3411N/7720E LLH
However, unfortunately, this isn’t exactly a ‘hit autopilot and relax’ departure. It is highly recommended to carry out the turns yourself and not leave it up to LNAV, especially since there is a long procedure turn from LH09 to LH10, which Infinite Flight doesn’t yet support.(yes, your flight plan is going to look very jagged.) You can, however, set your altitude and speed as you wish and let the autopilot handle those parameters for you.
Because it’s a high-altitude takeoff, TO/GA thrust should be used until 18,000 feet. Start the inbound turn from LH09 to LH10 only after reaching 21,000 feet, at 180 knots or below, at Flaps 1. Clean up your flap configuration by the time you reach LLH and continue your flight.
I hope you enjoyed this guide, and feel free to provide any feedback, concerns or comments below, so I can make this guide as useful as possible. Remember, keep a keen lookout and ensure correct altitude and terrain clearance at all points, and you’ll be flying in and out of Leh Airbase like a pro, in no time!
Primary source: IVAO Leh (VILH) Handbook