Air travel has now become so popular that you can find an airport in almost every part of the world. From remote desert locations to snow-capped mountain tops, it seems that the most interesting and exotic of destinations can only be reached by landing on a dangerous runway.
According to the majority of pilots, take-off and landing are considered the most dangerous aspects of flying. However, if your airport is located on the side of a cliff, crowded beach or main road, you could probably multiply this danger a 100 times!
In no particular order, we've put together a list of the 25 most dangerous airports in the world that are every pilot’s worst nightmare!
1. Courchevel Airport, France
Located in the middle of the French Alps, Courchevel Altiport is considered as one of the most dangerous in Europe. The runway measures just 1722ft long and with a distinct hill in the middle, only the most experienced pilots can fly there. Of course, since the airport is in the French Alps, snow, wind and ice wreak havoc with anything that is airborne.
2. Princess Juliana Airport, Caribbean
Regarded as one of the busiest airports in the Caribbean and the most dangerous in the world, the extremely short runway (7,152 ft) at Princess Juliana Airport means that planes have to approach the runway at about 60ft above a crowded beach area.
3. Matekane Air Strip, Lesotho
The remote air strip located in Lesotho, Africa has been labelled as the scariest runway in the world and measures just 1,300ft! When taking off from Matekane, planes don’t have enough time to start flying so have to drop down the face of a 2,000ft cliff until they become airborne.
4. Tioman Island Airport, Malaysia
Tioman Island Airport is located on a volcanic Island in the South China Sea. Pilots approaching the airport must first aim directly towards the mountains before making a 90 degree turn to be on course for the runway.
5. Juancho Airport, Caribbean
Juancho E. Yrausquin airport has the shortest commercial runway in the world, measuring a mere 1,300ft. Planes landing here must navigate cliffs on both sides of the runway and a steep slope that falls into the sea.
6. Gibraltar Airport
Due to the meagre size of the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, the airport runway has to extend into the sea and pass through Gibraltar’s main road – Winston Churchill Avenue. This means that each time a plane arrives or departs the airport, traffic at both sides of the road stops via a traffic light system.
7. Ice Runway, Antarctica
The Ice Runway is the principal runway for the US Antarctic Program and is made of solid ice. Each year several aircraft, weighing up to 450,000 pounds each, land on the airstrip carrying both cargo and passengers. Sometimes pilots are forced to land in a different location due to the six-foot-thick ice not being strong enough.
8. Madeira Airport, Portugal
Madeira Airport, also known as Funchal Airport measured just 5,250 feet long when it first opened in 1964. A few years later, an incoming flight carrying 164 passengers plunged over the steep bank of the short runway and crashed onto the beach killing 131 people.
Despite modifications to extend the runway by several feet, Madeira Airport remains an extremely difficult and dangerous runway for even the most experienced pilots. The mountainous terrain and close proximity to the ocean mean that pilots have to make some tricky manoeuvres in order to put themselves on course for the runway.
9. Kansai Airport, Japan
Land is a scarce resource in Japan, so when planning on where to build a new airport for the city of Osaka, engineers decided to build an island 3 miles off the coast. The artificial island can be reached via car, railroad, ferry etc and is put at risk by earthquakes, cyclones and an unstable seabed.
10. Carnevalli Airport
Located 3km southwest of Merida, Venezuela, the runway at Alberto Carnevalli Airport measures a mere 1,630 m and is situated in a valley between the Andean mountains. On 21 February 2008, Santa Barbara Flight 518 crashed shortly after take-off from Carnevalli, killing 46 persons on board.
11. Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport
Situated in the Sitka Sound, this airport is completely surrounded by water and if the name doesn’t provoke the difficulty of the landing then the debris that sometimes washes onto the runway is enough to frighten even experienced pilots. The situation is made even more perilous by the vast amounts of birds that flock near the runway.
12. Svalbard Airport, Norway
Svalbard Airport is the main airport serving Svalbard in Norway. It is the northernmost airport in the world with public scheduled flights. On 29 August 1996, Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801 from Moscow crashed into a mountain about 8.7 miles from the airport. All 141 people on board the Tupolev Tu-154M died. It is the worst crash in Norwegian history.
13. Toncontin Airport, Honduras
Ranked as the second most dangerous airport in the world by History Channel, the approach to Toncontin International Airport is considered as one of the most difficult in the world, especially in inclement weather conditions.
On May 30, 2008, flight 390 overran the runway at Toncontin airport and rolled out into a street, crashing into an embankment and smashing several cars in the process. Five people were confirmed dead as a result of the accident with two fatalities on the ground.
14. Paro Airport, Bhutan
Paro Airport, hidden amongst the Himalayan Mountains in Bhutan, is considered so challenging that only eight pilots are qualified to land there. Landing on the 6,500ft runway involves a scary ride over the nearby houses and flying against the severe winds that cause extreme turbulence.
15. Congonhas Airport, Brazil
In July 2007, a TAM Airlines Airbus A320 overran the runway while landing at Congonhas, crossed a major thoroughfare and impacted against a TAM Express warehouse. All 187 passengers and crew perished. 199 bodies were recovered from the crash site, including passengers, crew and people that were working at the warehouse.
16. Barra International Airport, Scotland
Barra International is the only airport in the world where scheduled flights use a beach as the runway. Marked by using wooden poles, the three runways at Barra are fully submerged underwater during high tide.
17. Catalina Airport, California
Carved into the nearby hills of the city of Avalon, pilots landing at Catalina Airport need to careful of the steep drop at both ends of the runway. The high altitude of the airport means that planes often have to prepare for heavy turbulence on a runway often plagued with soft spots and potholes.
18. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal
At an altitude of 9,325 feet, the small airstrip at Tenzing-Hillary Airport is both narrow and sloped. Failure to miss this short runway by just a few feet would result in the plane crashing into the nearby mountain.
On 25 August 2010, a flight crashed when bad weather had prevented it from reaching Lukla - all eleven passengers and three crew died.
19. Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
Although Kai Tak Airport has now closed, it will forever be remembered as one of the most dangerous in the world. Surrounded by high rise buildings, planes approaching the runway would have to make several complex turns to be in position for landing. The manoeuvre became known in piloting community as the "Hong Kong Turn” and as the "Kai Tak Heart Attack” amongst passengers.
20. Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland
Planes flying into Narsarsuaq Airport must fly through a valley-like fjord before making a 90 degree turn to be on target for the runway. Some of the dangers pilots may encounter here range from severe turbulence and icebergs drifting into their flight path.
21. San Diego Airport, California
Pilots have to be especially skilled to fly into this busy airport that is surrounded by mountains and strong tailwinds blowing in from the west. On September 25, 1978, a Boeing 727-200 collided in mid-air with a Cessna 172 while attempting to land at San Diego Airport. All 137 passengers were killed along with 7 people on the ground.
22. Queenstown Airport, New Zealand
Located in the beautiful resort town of Queenstown, New Zealand, the dangers at this airport involve jagged mountain ranges and strong downdrafts. The frequent bad weather in the area mean that pilots often have to deal with poor visibility.
23. LaGuardia Airport, New York
Although not as visually terrifying as some of the other airports in this list, the hazards at LaGuardia Airport involve crowded airspace, bird wildlife and a runway that extends into the water.On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River after losing both engines due to multiple bird strikes. Fortunately all 150 passengers were successfully evacuated from plane.
24. Wellington Airport, New Zealand
The runway at Wellington International Airport starts and ends in the sea and for an area notorious for strong winds, it isn’t the safest place to land. On November 2007, a Cessna 172 was flipped onto its roof as it was taxing onto the runway in strong northerly winds.
25. Gustaf III Airport, Caribbean
The short runway at Gustaf III Airport, also known as Saint Barhélemy, is situated at the foot of a hill and runs onto the St. Jean’s beach. Pilots flying into this airport have to be careful they don’t hit the steep upward hill or crash into the sea.