Back to home pageOperations in to La Paz (Elev 13,325ft)

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Operations into La Paz "El Alto" - Elevation 13,325ft

A fascinating account of how to operate a 737 into an airfield of such high elevation by Capt Daniel M. Lopes, Varig Airlines, written in July 2000.

Here at Varig, we have a daily flight from SBGL (Galeão, RJ) to SLLP (La Paz) with stops in SBGR (São Paulo Int'l) and SLVR (Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Bolivia). It's a routine flight until SLVR.


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*** Updated 14 Nov 2021 ***

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From SLVR some procedures apply:

Flight time to La Paz is 50 minutes. We have to use a B737-300 with 22k engines and 225mph tires. Pilots must be qualified by a Captain, with previous experience for this flight, before a "solo" flight. It's required to make a full IRS alignment and check if some specific positions are in data base. For airplanes with CPCS (pressurization system panel) set SLVR altitude minus 200ft before departure and after takeoff set cabin altitude to 9000ft. Over position TORAX (about 55nm to La Paz) adjust cabin to 12900ft for landings on runway 10 or 13100ft for rwy 28. For digital pressurization control you can use AUTO mode and set LAND ALT to 9000ft. Over TORAX use same altitudes described above. When cabin altitude reaches 10000ft pilots must wear oxygen masks (Norm position) until shutdown checklist.

It's forbidden to make weather deviations during descent, if necessary, maintain cruise level, make any deviation required and descend in a holding pattern over La Paz VOR, obviously following a coordination with ATC. (Unfortunately an Eastern Airlines B727-200 crashed during a descent, making weather deviations. This airplane hit a 21184ft-high mountain in January 1985). At least,  just prior to descend, PNF must set VHF NAV to manual and EHSI mode in Exp or Full raw data. FL 230 is the minimum altitude until 20nm to PAZ VOR, after 20nm it's possible to descend to 18000ft and start a VOR/ILS procedure (No radar vectors). Inhibit GPWS (Flap) because only flap 15 is approved for landing due to landing climb limits and do not use autobrake system. Unless any abnormal condition occurs, proper pilot technique is "Maximum reverse thrust, within engine limits, and minimum brakes", this is a 4000m-long runway, and this procedure works well and brakes and tires do not warm and affect turn around (anyway you need to check "Max quick turnaround weight table" after landing). Go around and max takeoff N1 values must be checked using an special table if required.

Runway 10 should be used even with light tailwind (within limits and checking tire speed limit, too) because there isn't an instrument procedure for runway 28 (just circling), and it isn't comfortable to make a circling approach to runway 28 due to a turbulent air near threshold (it's very close to a high terrain, and you fly over a valley where city of La Paz is and downdrafts are very usual). Missed approach for runway 10 is a sharp right turn to avoid Ilimane Peak, described before (Eastern).

For departure, full alignment and oxygen masks are also required and "High altitude airport start procedures" must be followed. Rolling takeoff is not permitted. There are special engine failure climb patterns, for runways 10 and 28. Improved climb, flaps 1 takeoff and no engine bleed must be thoroughly checked to take the best weight and performance advantage. Performance data is based on AFM Appendix 25 and 37LP.

There are also special enroute procedures and charts to fly in/out La Paz in case of pressurization failure and engine inoperative (with FMC on or off) and some additional details.

The most amazing thing is to make this flight during clear weather. During initial approach you fly over high terrain with a lot of snow and it's possible to see, not so far, Titicaca lake, but certainly you become very impressed when turning on final to land on runway 10 and the big wall (Ilimane peak) is just behind. An outstanding view !!!

The airplane reaction is very slow and you always must be prepared in advance. Due to the high altitude TAS is higher than usual, but engine response does not correspond as we are accustomed on a sea level flight.

737 Classic Operations Suspension

Following a series of landing gear failures on landing at La Paz, the Bolivian DGAC announced that all operations of Boeing 737-3/4/500 (Classics) at La Paz El Alto International Airport be temporarily suspended from 10 Oct 2019 for as long as techncial evaluations with respect to Operations and Airworthiness are being carried out until risk mitigations and an acceptable level of safety is re-established.

The following events are relavent:

03 Aug 2019 - CP-3077 MLG Shimmy Damage on Landing at La Paz

22 Nov 2018 - Peruvian Airlines 737-500 OB-2041-P (24825/1894) MLG collapse on landing at La Paz.


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