The Scariest Runways in the World from The Scariest Runways in the World

The Scariest Runways in the World

Imagine you’re on a plane to your dream vacation destination and the pilot says you have been redirected because the runway is too short and you are at risk of falling off a cliff. Most passengers believe they’re safe once they see the airport from the windows. But when you have to land on ice, in the mountain, or on a beach, the last leg of the flight can be a nightmare. Technically, flying on an airplane is among the safest way to travel – the chance of a crash is just 1 in 11 million. But you may feel differently if you were about to land at one of these places.  

Gibraltar International

tviolet / Shutterstock

Gibraltar is now officially among the 10 Most Dangerous Airports. And how can it not be, according to this video? Taking off and landing is quite the challenge because the plane can easily end up in the ocean. The runway is one straight and very short line. It’s also in a town. There is actually a railway crossing in the middle and a barrier comes down when a plane is about to land so people know to stay away.

Toncontin Airport, Honduras

If you can, avoid flying into Toncontin Airport. Stories of its danger have made the news several times. The runway in Tegucigalpa is much shorter than average and is located in the middle of populated valleys. The nightmare of landing there begins with twisted ravine. The airport is located in a mountainous region requiring pilots to make some unconventional maneuvers to land safely. There have been six major crashes there since 1989.

Madeira Airport, Portugal

Photo Modified: Flickr / Alexander Baxevanis CC BY 4.0

“Europe's most dangerous airport” is in Madeira. The runway is so narrow that it was extended by 655 feet in 1977, after a crash killed 131 people, according to the Independent.  Pilots hate the airport for other reasons as well – it’s surrounded by rocky hills and an utter drop into the ocean. The location is not ideal either, as strong winds often cause severe turbulence.

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba Island

Photo Modified: Flickr / David B. Gleason CC BY 4.0

Landing at this airport is risky business. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport is the only airport in Saba, but only master pilots dare to land there. With high hills on one side and cliffs on the other, it is advised that passengers are strong swimmers, just in case. Going beyond the runway is a realistic possibility. Miraculously, no major accidents have occurred there, yet.

Male International Airport, Maldives

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If you want to know what it’s like to feel like you’re landing in the sea, take a flight to the Male International Airport in this gateway to paradise destination; or watch this video. It’s unnerving, to say the least. Arriving at the airport, which has only one asphalt runway, built on an isle and is just 6 feet above sea level, is an adventure in itself. There is no room for the littlest mistake or the plane can end up in the ocean.

Congonhas Airport, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Photo Modified: Flickr / Thiago Melo CC BY 4.0

Airports are usually located far from densely populated areas. The last thing pilots should be worried about is hitting building and people. Congonhas, however, is an exception. In 2007, a plane overrun the runway and crashed into a warehouse at 109 mph. All 187 people on board, and 12 people on the ground were killed. The runways are often slippery because of a bad drain system for rainwater (although it has been improved since then). The weight of planes flying into the airport has also been limited.

Barra Airport, Scotland

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This is a unique airport that uses a beach for its runways, the only one of its kind in the world. If it’s hard to imagine, you can see how it’s done in this video. Flight times have to be scheduled according to high tide. Sometimes cars in the parking lot have to have their lights on to help pilots see where to land.

MCAS Futenma, Okinawa

Photo Modified: Flickr / Hideyukl KAMONCC BY 4.0

The Navy calls the Marine Corps Air Station in Funtenma, Okinawa, Japan “the most dangerous in the world.” Landing there requires passing over 16 schools, hospitals, and city offices. The more than 3,000 people living in what is supposed to be a “clear zone” is just another risk factor. Also, the city of Ginowan, with 96,000 people, surrounds the air station. In 2004, a helicopter crashed at Okinawa International University.

Paro Airport, Bhutan

According to this YouTube video, seen viewed more than 5 million times, the most dangerous landing in the world was into Paro Airport in Bhutan. Visiting this remote and exotic region begins with a unique but scary terrifying experience. The 6,500 foot-long runway is surrounded by steep 18,000-foot peaks and mountain foliage. Only eight pilots in the world are qualified to land there, according to the Daily Mail. Planes have to weave through houses that are scattered across the mountainside, coming within feet of clipping the roofs.

Courchevel International Airport, France

The issues with an airport servicing a ski area are numerous – small airport and short runways (1,722 feet) at an altitude of 6,560 feet with an incline of 18.5 percent. There is no go-around procedure in this airport, as you can see in this clip. If there is fog, which is to be expected in the French Alps, you can’t land. It’s almost impossible to make a final approach because the vertical drop at the end is practically invisible.

Narsarsuaq Aiport, Greenland

The airport is as beautiful as it is dangerous. As evident from this clip, pilots have to fly up a fjord. Severe turbulence is almost always a given and is made even worse by strong winds. And don’t forget about the icebergs wandering around the runways for takeoff and landing. Unsurprisingly, planes are not allowed to leave or arrive when it’s dark.

Lukla Airport, Nepal

Photo Modified: Flickr / lndrik myneur CC BY 4.0

You have probably seen how people clap every time a plane lands. Passengers, who are safely arriving at Lukla Airport in Nepal, applaud with sincere excitement. The airport is too high – 9,325 feet – and the airstrip is extremely short and narrow. A margin of error is practically non-existent. If a pilot misses it by few feet, he or she may have to land on a mountain, putting people on board in severe peril. See why in this video.

Skiathos, Greece

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Skiathos is also famously known as the “European Saint Marteen Airport.” It is next to the sea and the runway is as close to the street as on St. Maarten. It’s a little easier to land here because the planes on the Greek island are not very big. Skiathos is a very popular location for plane spotting. Watch the “lowest 737 landing ever” here.

Matekane, Lesotho

This undersized 1,312-foot-long runway somehow constructed at the edge of a steep mountainside at 7,550 feet is not making the pilots’ job any easier. The wind doesn’t have to be strong to prevent the plane for going airborne while still on the airstrip. What happens then, as seen in this video, is a quick drop of a few thousand feet – while you feel like you just jumped off a cliff – before ascending to normal height.

Wellington, New Zealand

Photo Modified: Flickr / Br3ndaCC BY 4.0

As you can see from this video, planes have trouble landing because of the very short runway. Strong crosswinds in this hilly location are preventing the aircraft from staying balanced, making a landing very turbulent. Passengers probably feel like the plane is about to flip over.

McMurdo Air Station, Antarctica

Photo Modified: Flickr / Alan LightCC BY 4.0

Ever wonder what it’s like to land on ice? This video can demonstrate. The three runways at McMurdo Air Station are long but they are entirely made of ice. Sometimes the pilots have to use night vision equipment to land because it’s dark all day. When you add the factor of unpredictable and always below-zero degrees weather, do you really want to fly into McMurdo?

The Scariest Runways in the World