World’s 10 Most Hair Raising Airport Landings

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For most flights, the big event happens when we get off the plane; when we head to our holiday or conference. However, on some flights, the fun begins before you’re even off the plane. We take a look at 10 of the most dangerous airports for landing in the world.

St Maarten landing
Which airports are most difficult to land at? Photo: Getty Images

Why are airports built in dangerous places?

Of course, no one sets out to build an airport in a dangerous location, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. Whether it’s a vital link for residents or a popular tourist destination, some airports end up where convenience dictates.

That said, an airport will never be too dangerous to land on. There must still be some precautions, and aircraft will only land on runways that are suitable .

However, some runways that might be deemed suitable can still require a bit of skill. Let’s take a look at some airports that offer the most hair-raising landings.

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Thunderstorm airplane
Why build runways in difficult locations? Photo: Getty Images

10. Princess Juliana International Airport, St Maarten

If you know anything about St Maarten, it’s likely the sight of the gargantuan KLM Boeing 747 taking off or landing over the beach by the runway.

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Princess Juliana International Airport was first built in the 1940s for use by the US army in World War II. Before long, in 1943, it received its first commercial flight. It has a runway of just over 7,500ft situated four feet above sea level.

KLM lands at St Marteen
Jumbos at St Maarten were a common sight. Photo: Getty Images

The airport has been rated highly in the Caribbean and even won an award for the Most Stunning Landing in 2013. It’s precisely that scenic landing that can cause an issue. When aircraft come into land at the airport, pilots must navigate at low altitudes to avoid the sea, beachgoers and make a smooth arrival on the runway.

It’s not always the people presence that makes it difficult. There have been three fatal water landings at the airport, including one in 1970 that ditched after running out of fuel due to failed landings attempts.

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Fear factor: Moderate

9. Kansai International Airport, Japan

If you don’t like your airports close to water, then Kansai International Airport is not for you. To avoid overcrowding in Osaka, it was placed on a custom-built artificial island in 1994. Now a large international airport, Kansai International is home to All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines. Several other carriers also fly into the airport, including Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa.

It is situated 17ft above sea level, and both runways measure between 11,400ft and 13,123ft in length. In terms of landings, that makes Kansai relatively comfortable. The danger is with unpredictable weather conditions.

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Kansai Airport
Kansai Airport is built on an island. Photo: Getty Images

As an island in Osaka Bay, storms can cause problems. That exactly what happened in September 2018 when Typhoon Jebi hit.

Fear factor: Low level

8. Tenzing–Hillary Airport, Nepal

Though Tenzing–Hillary Airport is not used extensively for commercial and international travel, it is still a popular airport. It is mainly frequented by those planning to trek Everest. Neighboring the largest and most challenging mountain on Earth, it’s clear to see why pilots may have trouble landing at this airport.

It has widely been described as the most dangerous airport in the world. It sits 9,334ft above sea level with a runway just 1,729ft long, making it suitable for small fixed-wing aircraft like the De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter.

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Tenzing-Hillary Airport
Tenzing-Hillary is popular for Everest hikers. Photo:
Reinhard Kraasch via Wikimedia Commons

With an 11.7% gradient to tackle and unpredictable weather patterns, flying to this airport requires a degree of confidence. What’s more, at one end of the runway is a 2,000ft drop. The other end is a stone wall.

Fear factor: Terrifying!

7. Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira International Airport, Portugal

Madeira International Airport has had a lot of media attention over the years. From changing its name in honor of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo in March 2017 to being awarded the Outstanding Structure Award in 2016. However, it’s also known as one of the most dangerous airports on the planet.

Pilots landing at this airport will need to maneuver through winds on narrow runways with a 150-degree turn to land. Though the airport sits 190ft above sea level, part of the runway is suspended over the sea, supported by 180 columns. What’s more, the airport is surrounded by hills.

Madeira Airport
Madeira Airport is extended on columns. Photo: Getty Images

This is one landing that requires real skill and a brave heart.

Fear factor: Terrifying!

6. Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar

Gibraltar International Airport is quite literally the meeting place of two worlds: an international airport and a domestic highway. Yes, that’s right! Any planes wanting to take off or land at the airport must first cross the road.

Thankfully, the coordination around the airport is all very well organized. Traffic is stopped to allow the safe passage of incoming aircraft, which is good because there are other problems to worry about.

Gibraltar Airport
The runway in Gibraltar crosses a road. Photo: Andrew Griffith via Wikimedia Commons

Facing the sea, Gibraltar International Airport often reports incredibly strong winds that make controlling aircraft in landing a little bit of a challenge. Added to that, pilots really have to nail the approach and take-off since the sea flanks both ends of the runway.

Fear factor: Moderate

5. Wellington International Airport, New Zealand

Wellington International Airport offers similar conditions to those at Gibraltar. That is, unfavorable. Landing here can be a challenge thanks to extreme winds and surrounding sea views.

Fear factor: Low level

Wellington International
Landing at Wellington International can be a challenge. Photo: Mark Tantrum/Jetstar Airways via Wikimedia Commons

4. Courchevel Altiport, France

Courchevel Altiport is not used for international or large aircraft. It is a small airport in the Alps which services the ski resort. Naturally, landing in snowy mountains produces a significant challenge.

Not only is the airport in less than favorable terrain, but the runway is a little short of 1,800ft in length and has an 18.5% gradient decline, which makes precision in landing and take-off key.

Fear factor: Moderate

Courchevel Altiport
Landing at Courchevel doesn’t look like a smooth ride. Photo: Peter Robinett via Wikimedia Commons

3. Paro International Airport, Bhutan

Paro International Airport has a runway of 7,431ft in length situated 7,332ft above sea level. At this airport, it’s not just short runways that are the problem but also dangerous descents from the mountains. Only around 20 pilots are qualified to fly to the airport, which requires a great deal of skill.

The airport is only visible as aircraft come into land, having wound through 18,000ft mountains. What’s more, pilots need to make a sharp 45-degree angle to land. Still, that doesn’t stop Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines from making frequent trips.

Fear factor: Terrifying!

Druk Air at Paro
Only two airlines fly to Paro International. Photo: Getty Images

2. Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland

Narsarsuaq Airport in southern Greenland is most certainly a hair-raising landing. As if strong winds were not challenging enough, there is a whole host of other natural powers to contend with.

For one, visibility is lost through the fog when the weather is bad, making landing difficult. Add to that the potential of eruptions from active volcanos, and even the best pilots will struggle to see. When things get worse is when the runway freezes over or is covered in snow.

Narsarsuaq
The view of the airport from the air. Photo: Algkalv via Wikimedia Commons

Fear factor: Terrifying!

1. Toncontin International Airport, Honduras

Since 1989, there have been six fatal airplane crashes on approach or take-off from Toncontin International Airport. The airport is situated 3,307ft above sea level with a runway length of 7,096ft.

Aircraft landing in toncontin
Toncontin is one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Photo: enrique galeano morales via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to the short runway, pilots must navigate through the mountains to reach the airport—all the while battling through strong winds. Once touched down, departure is not much more straightforward. Once airborne, aircraft must ascend quickly to avoid the mountains that surround the airport.

In 2010, the History Channel voted Toncontin International, the second most extreme airport in the world.

Fear factor: Terrifying!

Got any more airports to add to the list? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

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