What Are The Longest Runways In The World?

‘Build one mile of highway and it will take you just one mile…but a mile of runway will take you anywhere,’ – this is a saying that people in the aviation world love to repeat. Of course, in reality, the largest jets need closer to two miles of runway, and ‘anywhere’ is restricted to fuel and weight limitations. What are the longest runways in the world, and why do we need them?

Heathrow runway queue
Although its one of the world’s busiest airports, London Heathrow’s runways don’t come close to being the longest. Photo: Getty Images

Why do we need long runways?

At the most basic level, long runways are needed to allow an aircraft to accelerate to an acceptable speed that will produce lift and become airborne. In general, the larger and heavier the plane is, the more speed is required, and therefore, more runway length needed.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Additional runway length can also help with unfavorable weather conditions, which, for landing, in particular, will help with safety. Extra stopping distance may be required due to a slippery runway, perhaps lightly coated by snow. Hotter temperatures and high altitudes will also affect an aircraft’s length of runway needed on take-off.

Therefore, when it comes to aircraft operations, the longer the runway, the better.

What Are The Longest Runways In The World?
Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport and its runway gained a reputation for being dangerous as it was surrounded by water and apartment buildings. Photo: Getty Images

Qamdo Bamda: The world’s longest runway?

Our research leads us to believe that China’s Qamdo Bamda Airport has the world’s longest runway at 5,500 meters. Located in south-central China, nestled in the eastern portion of the Himalayan mountain range north of Myanmar, the runway’s length is a necessity due to its high altitude.

In fact, the airport and runway are situated 4,400 meters above sea level. As we alluded to above, high altitude affects engine performance and the ability for wings to acquire the lift needed to get the aircraft airborne.

It’s possible that this “was” the world’s longest runway as some reports note that the 5,500-meter runway was closed and replaced by a 4,500-meter runway.

Qamdo Bamda Airport
A satellite view of Qamdo Bamda Airport and its runway. Photo: Google Maps

Zhukovsky International Airport

At 5,400 meters, Moscow’s Zhukovsky International Airport has the second-longest runway in the world (or first, depending on the situation at Qamdo Bamda). The runway was opened in 2016, with Zhukovsky serving as Moscow’s fourth international airport (along with Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukovo).

At any rate, the airport’s runway stands as the longest in Europe and will have no problem at all handling a fully loaded Airbus A380 or Antonov An-225.

Zhukovsky airport
An aerial view of Zhukovsky Airport and its runway. Photo: ESA via Wikimedia Commons 

Other notable runways

Below are some other notably long runways around the world:

  • Shigatse Peace Airport in China: 5,000 meters
  • Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport in Russia: 5,000 meters
  • Embraer Unidade Gavião Peixoto Airport in Brazil: 4,967 meters

Further down the list, but within 100 meters of Embraer Unidade Gavião Peixoto Airport, you’ll find the runways of Upington (South Africa), Denver (USA), and Doha (Qatar).

Are you at all surprised by the longest runways in the world? Let us know in the comments.