Those that fly regularly end up getting used to a few bumps from bad weather in the air, or rough take-offs and landings… but all that pales in comparison to some of the most dangerous airports in the world.
From runways too short that end in water (or worse), to extreme weather conditions, to the proximity of infrastructure, these top 10 are not for the faint of heart!
The approach into Toncontin Airport is bad enough with the flight path making sharp turns around the mountainous terrain, before dropping sharply to reach the runway. But on top of that, the pilot then must pull the plane up so that it doesn’t go off the end of the short runway… directly down an embankment and onto major roads and houses!
With such a small amount of land available in the country, the designers of the Gibraltar International Airport were forced to have a road pass directly across the runway. Now a major tourist attraction that people can walk and drive across, we just hope that the signals don’t fail!
Beach-goers get a unique view of planes as they come in to land at Princess Juliana International Airport, passing just metres overhead before touching down on the runway. Adrenaline junkies prefer the take-offs though, as they cling to a chain fence while being blasted by the jet engines!
Also known as St Jeans Aiport, the runway is so short that only small aircraft can land and take-off. The pilots must use a hill to slow down and must stop the plane before it reaches the white sandy beach, complete with bathers, and the crystal clear waters beyond. The landing is so difficult that even experienced pilots must have special training before being allowed to land!
Originally known as Funchal Airport, Madeira’s international airport is classed as the most dangerous in Europe due to its runway length and variable weather conditions. With powerful crosswinds coming off the land, it can make landing a real challenge. But what makes me sweat is that when they extended the runway, there was nothing to build it on… so its basically a runway on stilts!
Also known as Lukla Airport, and named after the first explorers to conquer Mt Everest, this is the closest airport to Base Camp.
You can imagine the conditions in the Himalayas are not ideal for flying, even at the best of times. With a jaw dropping approach up the valley between mountain peaks, the pilot can’t actually see the runway until the last moment and with little to no electricity or modern air traffic control, the sheer drop at the end of the runway is enough to make you hold your breath!
Predominantly a domestic airport, Congonhas Airport (also known as Sao Paulo Airport) has passengers gripping their armrests for 2 reasons. During heavy rains, the runway wasn’t designed to drain water well, making pilots feel like they are landing on water; and as Sao Paulo has grown to envelop the airport, the runway is surrounded by major roads just metres from the end.
You know what else is only metres away….apartment blocks! Passengers have been known to say they are so close that you can see what’s on their television from the plane…
When governing bodies restrict the number of pilots qualified to use an airport to such a low number, you just know there’s a good reason.
Bhutan’s only international airport, Paro, has some of the most unpredictable weather in the world due to it being nestled amongst peaks reaching 5000 metres in the Himalaya Mountains. It is easy to see why flights are restricted to daylight hours and perfect weather conditions. But with the popularity of Bhutan growing in tourist circles, I’ll say that it may not stay like this for long!
Made famous from the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, Courcheval Airport in France not only has to deal with altitude and snow conditions, but also the pilot has to negotiate a tricky approach through the French Alps. Thrown into the mix it’s nearly the shortest runway in Europe and has an uphill gradient of over 18 degrees.
Makes you want to hit the beach instead of the slopes!
If skiing isn’t your thing then maybe the beach is… but at Barra Airport in Scotland you need to time your visit just right, otherwise the runway is underwater. Brings a whole new meaning to “dipping your toes in”!
Some honourable mentions but for one reason or another I haven’t included in the top 10 are:
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba – The runway is so short, flights must ask for special permission to land here, making it not a scheduled airport.
Don Mueang Airport, Thailand – Mainly used for domestic flights as Bangkok’s secondary airport, you can play a game of golf between the runways if you like?
McMurdo Air Station, Antartica – Once again, not a scheduled airport, but as you can imagine, the runway is nothing but ice!
Matekane Airstrip, Lesotho – Only used for doctors and medical supplies, this airstrip is only 400 metres long and ends with a 600 metre cliff!