Most airport runways are considered safe, depending on the physical and environmental factors. When approach and departure paths are close to densely populated areas, are high in altitude or are located in an area with unpredictable weather, they would be considered dangerous.While flying is the fastest and easiest way to get to your destination, flat stretches of runway aren’t always available in certain places. In such cases, the pilots have to be extremely experienced to land the aircraft with precision. From a runway that ends right at a popular beach to another that ends at a 2,000 feet drop, here are 10 of the most dangerous runways that only the daring would travel to.
1. The Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten might be scarier for sunbathers than passengers onboard. The runway is extremely short and planes have to fly really low, while scaring sunbathers and beach-goers.
St. Martin is the smallest island in the world that is divided between two countries, France and the Netherlands. The island is 34 square miles in total size, but despite its small size, major airlines fly large jet aircraft into St. Martin’s Princess Juliana International Airport. The airport is extremely famous for its proximity to the beach since bystanders get to witness aircrafts take off and land within a few feet.
Despite the breathtaking experience, it is rated as one of the world’s scariest and scenic airport landings. Landing in the airport is harder than taking off since the flight approaches the runway over the water and pilots must make regular instrument checks to ensure the correct altitude is maintained at all times. At the same time, during take-offs, pilots have to make a sudden U-turn to avoid the mountains that loom large at the end of the runway.
Although there are signs that clearly state not be at close proximity, people still stay close to the runway, for the thrills; resulting in injuries from being blow away by the powerful engines. Despite all this, the place is spectacular for photo ops of aircraft directly above sunbathers. (source)
2. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, in Lukla, Nepal, is not only 9,383 feet above sea level, but also has one of the world’s steepest uphill runways. Flights are only allowed to take off and land here during the day, if weather is favorable.
The Tenzing-Hillary Airport, in Lukla, Nepal, is considered as one of the most dangerous airports in the world. It not only has the shortest runway/landing strip, the airport has no control tower, radar or navigation. Pilots have to rely on their skills and aim to make a precise landing and take off. The runway is only 460 meters long (a tenth of standard length) and is also a slope. To make things even scarier, if the pilot miscalculates the take off, then they face a 9,200 ft fall off a cliff edge.
The airport is not a destination for the faint of heart. With only a single landing strip in the town of Lukla, in Khumbu, eastern Nepal, only skilled pilots are allowed to attempt to land or take off. Since the airport is on the mountain ridge, once the aircraft starts descending, it has to land. There is no option to stop descending and have a second try. Since the 1970’s, numerous lives have been claimed by this dangerous airport, with numbers now reaching into the double figures. (source)
3. Gustaf III Airport, in St. Barths, has an insanely short runway (2,100 feet) that ends on a public beach full of tanning tourists.
Gustaf III Airport, in St. Barths, is called one of the most challenging airports in the world and for a reason. The pilots who attempt to land and take off from the single runway are individually trained and certified to perform the maneuver. Its single runway is just over 2,100 feet long, with a large hill off the approach end to Runway 10 and a beach at the end of opposing Runway 28. The airport is also operational during day time at certain hours and have no night operations.
While there are no instrument approaches into St. Barths, there are a few mandatory reporting points around the island. Landing on the runway poses a bigger challenge than take off, since pilots have to fly close to the terrain with people just a few feet below. (source)
4. The Courchevel Airport, in Courchevel, France, not only has an incredibly short runway, it is also incredibly steep, with a gradient of 18.5%. At the end of the runway, there’s a sheer rock-face drop, so pilots have only one shot with each take off.
The Courchevel Airport is not only 6,588 ft above sea level, it has an extremely short runway that is 537 meters (1,762 ft) long with a gradient of 18.6%. The slope was added in order to assist slow landing aircrafts. The airport has a dangerous approach through deep valleys which can only be performed by specially certified pilots.
The airport is in the heart of the French Alps and the DGAC (French Civil Aviation Authority) sets very strict rules about landing there. It is also considered extremely tricky to navigate through the Alps. However, if you are someone who is fond of taking risks, there are private jets and helicopters with trained pilots available. Flying to Courchevel from London, a small 4-seater Citation Mustang would cost around €12,500 for a 7-night return flight, with a further €1,900 (each way) for a helicopter transfer in a 5-seater AS350 helicopter. (source)
5. The Gibraltar International Airport, in Gibraltar, is tightly flanked by a bustling city and a massive mountain. the runway at Gibraltar International Airport is intersected by Winston Churchill Avenue, one of Gibraltar’s busiest streets and traffic has to be stopped for aircrafts to land or take off.
Gibraltar is a tiny British territory on the southern coast of Spain and is home to one of the world’s most extreme airports. The Gibraltar International Airport, which sits at the tip of the territory’s northern border with Spain, has a busy highway bisecting its runway. The four-lane Winston Churchill Boulevard leads right through the runway. Every time a plane takes off, or lands, the road must close, thus creating traffic.
The airport is relatively small with a 5,500-foot runway, but the city’s main street intersection is what causes the most chaos. The short runway also abruptly ends at the Sea on both ends, forcing pilots to hit the brakes immediately after landing. (source)
6. The Madeira Airport, in Madeira, Portugal, is known as one of the most dangerous airports in Europe. The runway is extremely short and is subjected to extreme winds. During take off, pilots often need to make a sharp right turn in order to avoid the Atlantic ocean.
With an unusually short runway, rocky hills on either side and a sheer drop into the ocean the airport is recognized by pilots as one of the most difficult to land in Europe. Strong winds and turbulence challenges pilots who often have to land sideways after being turned by the wind. In 1977, Madeira runway was extended after an accident claimed the lives of more than 100, after the plane slipped off the runway.
In 2003, it was once again extended and an additional 655 ft was added. Today, the runway is 5250 ft long but only experienced pilots are allowed to land or take off. In 2017, the airport was rebranded Madeira International Airport Cristiano Ronaldo, in honor of the soccer star who was born in Madeira. (source)
7. The Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, in Saba, has the world’s shortest landing strip.
The small airport in the Dutch Caribbean island is known for the world’s shortest commercial landing strip as well as the most dangerous. Located on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba, the airport stretches for a mere 400 meters or 1,312 feet, making it just a bit longer than a typical aircraft carrier. Both ends of the runway have steep cliffs and unsuspecting pilots would literally go for a swim.
One side of the landing strip is also flanked with hills. Although the airport gets its fair share of travelers every year, most have to take small aircrafts such as the BN-2 Islander since landing is extremely hard for bigger aircrafts. Despite the fact that many consider the Junacho E. Yrausquin airport to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world, there hasn’t been a fatal accident here since the airport first started operating. (source)
8. The Barra Airport, in Scotland, is one of the world’s most spectacular and most beautiful airports. It is the only beach airport anywhere in the world to be used for scheduled airline services.
The airport is literally located on the shores of a beach. There are three runways for landing and take off. Visitors are advised to stay away from the airport area since the planes can fly really low, which could be dangerous to both the airplane and the personnel. However, the real danger lies with the landing maneuver since the wind and tides are constantly changing.
During high tides, the airport is closed and if the waves are coming too close to the landing strip, the airport officials will call off any airplanes from landing in the airstrip. The airport might be small but is well equipped. (source)
9. The runway on the McMurdo Air Station, in Antarctica, is made of ice. Fly into McMurdo at the right time of year and your pilots will land using night vision goggles because it will be dark all day.
Built on the bare volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island, McMurdo Station is Antarctica’s largest community. Established in 1956, the community has grown into a complex logistics staging facility of more than 100 structures that includes a harbor and an airport. However, the aircrafts that arrive there have to land on sea ice and shelf ice which is cleared to make favorable conditions for landing and take off.
The good news is that the runways are long but the bad news is that they are made of ice and the weather is unpredictable. The U.S. Antarctic Station enjoys 12 months of below-freezing average temperatures and is served by three runways. On October 1970, a Lockheed C-121 Constellation transport crashed in the location due to bad weather conditions. The remains are still visible at the station. (source)
10. The Paro Airport, in Bhutan, is nestled in the Himalayan Mountains, 7,300 feet above sea level and surrounded by peaks as high as 18,000 feet. There are only around 25 pilots qualified to land at this dangerous airport.
Passengers as well as pilots who fly to the Paro airport in Bhutan, have courage. The airport is sandwiched in between the Himalayan Mountains and is said to be the most dangerous in the world. Located 1.5 miles above sea level and surrounded by sharp peaks of up to 18,000 ft tall, landing is so treacherous that only around 25 pilots are qualified to land and take off from the airport. The runway is just 6,500 feet long, adding it to the list of airports whose runways are shorter than their elevation above sea level. (source)