Today (October 7, 2019): Top 10 most dangerous airports in the world.
Although flying is one of the safest means of travel, many passengers suffer from a fear of flying, including myself. That said, some airport approaches are a lot more challenging than others, and can turn into a terrifying experience that makes the bravest frequent flyers grip their armrests. From mountain ranges and oceans to less than half a mile runways, here are ten of the most dangerous airports in the world, where landings and takeoffs require extreme precision and massive pilot skill.
There is more information (with Youtube clips) below the slideshow. Think I missed one? Leave a comment.
10. WELLINGTON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, NEW ZEALAND
Serving the capital of New Zealand, Wellington International Airport is the third busiest airport in the country, after Auckland and Christchurch. It features a single 2,081 m (6,827 ft ) runway that appears to start and end in the ocean. The airport has a reputation for sometimes rough and turbulent landings, even in larger aircraft, due to the channeling effect of Cook Strait creating strong and gusty winds, especially in north-westerly conditions. This makes it extremely difficult for pilots to maneuver landings, and can sometimes turn flying into a hair-raising experience for passengers.
9. GIBRALTAR INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, BRITISH OVERSEAS TERRITORY
The runway at Gibraltar’s airport crosses the main road in and out of the British Overseas Territory, and consequently traffic has to be closed every time a plane lands or departs. The resultant traffic jams have led to the construction of a tunnel under the runway, but the project has been plagued by delays and is still not complete. However, the highway crossing isn’t the main issue for pilots.; it’s the strong turbulence and wind shear around the Rock of Gibraltar and across the Bay of Algeciras that makes landings here a challenging affair and particularly uncomfortable. Diversions and go-arounds are common, especially in winter.
8. PRINCESS JULIANA AIRPORT, ST MAARTEN
The notorious Princess Juliana Airport on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin is famous around the world for its low landings over the ocean, owing to one end of its single 7,546 ft (2,300 m) long runway being extremely close to the shore. The proximity of Maho Beach to the runway has made the airport one of the world’s most favorite places for a perfect Instagram shot, as the landing jets appear to be just feet above the heads of the public just before touchdown while takeoff creates huge gusts of wind and sand for sunbathers. It’s not without danger though: in 2017 a New Zealand woman died from injuries sustained by jet blast from a departing aircraft.
7. NARSARQUAG AIRPORT, GREENLAND
One of two airports in Greenland capable of serving large airliners, Narsarsuaq Airport is located in Tunulliarfik Fjord on the country’s southern tip. The airport was built in 1941 by the USA Ministry of Defense. Pilots must deal with strong winds, severe turbulence and wind shear in a mountainous landscape (even on the calmest days of the year) before they get sight of the relatively short 6,000 ft (1823 m) runway. While the high wind in the fjords is a major challenge for pilots, a nearby volcano can be even more of a headache. When it erupts, its volcanic ash cloud contains very small particles of glass (silica, from melting ice) that can damage aircraft engines.
6. TONCONTIN AIRPORT, HONDURAS
The approach to Toncontin Airport, located near the capital of Honduras, has long been considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world, especially in inclement weather condition. The mountainous terrain surrounding the small airport forces pilots to make a dramatic approach that’s anything but head on, with a steep decent and a sharp turn prior to lining up with the runway. It’s also one of the world’s deadliests airports. In 1989, a Boeing commercial plane crashed into a mountainside on approach, killing 132 people. At least 5 more planes have since followed suit and crashed in or around the airport. A new airport is currently being constructed in Comayagua to replace Toncontin International Airport.
5. MADEIRA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, PORTUGAL
Madeira International Airport Cristiano Ronaldo, formerly known as Funchal Airport, on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world due to its spectacular construction. The original runway was only 1,600 m (5,249 ft) long, but was extended to 2,781 m (9,124 ft) after a fatal plane crash in 1977 (164 people died when a Boeing 727 fell off the end of the runway onto the beach below). The runway extension is supported by 180 columns (partly over the ocean) which have to withstand serious shock loading during landings. The airport is also dangerous due to strong winds, high mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Pilots must undergo additional training to land at the airport.
4. TENZING-HILLARY AIRPORT, NEPAL
Tenzing-Hillary Airport – also known as Lukla Airport – in Nepal is the prime airport for anyone who is visiting Mt. Everest. The runway is surrounded on all sides by steep Himalayan terrain, with a mountain shelf on one side and a steep drop into the valley below on the other side. The airport runway is extremely short at just 527 m (1,729 ft) long, although it also slopes uphill with a gradient of almost 12%, which helps planes to slow down in time. To make matters worse, there is no go-around procedure because of the surrounding mountains. Given these factors, only helicopters and small fixed-wing propeller planes are permitted to land. Since 1973, there have been several accidents on the airport that resulted in many deaths and injuries.
3. COURCHEVEL AIRPORT, FRANCE
While the airport at Lukla has a dangerously short runway of only 527 m (1,729 ft), the one at Courchevel Airport is even shorter at 525 m (1722 feet). This airport – which serves the exclusive ski resort of Courchevel in the French Alps – drops off in a cliff as well, so pilots need to make sure they gain enough speed for takeoff if they don’t want to fall off the cliff’s edge. The runway also has a downward gradient of 18.6%, which further complicates takeoff and landing. Moreover, on approach or during takeoff, pilots have to maneuver their aircraft between the Alps without instrument procedures; the only clear guideline is a no go-round due to the surrounding mountains.
2. JUANCHO E. YRAUSQUIN AIRPORT, SABA ISLAND
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport is located approximately 45 km (28 mi) south of St Maarten, on the minuscule Dutch Caribbean island of Saba, also known as the original King Kong movie island. With a runway of only 400 m (1300 ft) in total length, this makes it the world’s shortest commercial airport runway. The airport is wedged on a rocky outcrop at the foot of a mountain, with jagged terrain on one side and cliffs dropping into the sea at the other ends of the runway, so any landing here is a nerve-wracking challenge. Although the airport is closed to jet traffic, regional airline propeller aircraft are able to land there under waivers from The Netherlands Antilles’ Civil Aviation Authority.
1. PARO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, BHUTAN
Paro is Bhutan’s sole international airport. The tiny airport is nestled in a deep valley and surrounded by sharp peaks of up to 5,500 m (18,000 ft) tall. Strong winds whip through the valley, often resulting in severe turbulence. Considered the most dangerous airport in the world, flights are only allowed during daytime and under visual meteorological conditions in which pilots make their judgements by eye rather than relying on aircraft instruments. The dramatic approach to the runway is completely out of site for the pilots until the last minute as they maneuver between mountains at a 45-degree angle before dropping quickly onto the runway. Only a limited number of pilots are authorized to land at Paro. Below you can watch my Youtube clip featuring a full landing sequence at Paro.