Air transport is one of the safest modes of transport globally. Although engineers construct airports to be as safe as possible for landing and take-off, some locations, weather, and circumstances demand the construction of runways in places considered to be unsafe. This list consists of fifteen such airports and why they are dangerous.
15. Lukla Airport - Nepal
Lukla Airport sits at an elevation of 9,334 feet above sea level at the foot of Mount Everest, making it one of the highest airports globally. It has been in service since 1965. This airport’s location within the challenging Himalayan landscape makes it dangerous for airplanes. Lukla is the main airport for those who want to climb Mount Everest or explore the Himalayas. What makes the airport challenging to even the most experienced pilots is that mountain ranges surround it, it has a very short runway, extreme climate, has no air traffic control, and no lights, consequently, pilots have to be extra careful during landing and take-off. Since 1973, there have been several accidents on the airport that resulted in many deaths and injuries.
14. Courchevel International Airport - France
This airport serves the Courchevel ski resort located in the French Alps. Most aviation blogs rank this airport as among the most dangerous in the world. On approaching or taking off from the airport, pilots have to maneuver narrow routes between the Alps without any ground landing or take-off procedures. There are no lights or instrument approach procedures to guide pilots in the dark or during fog, mist, and low clouds further complicating the process. The only clear guideline is a no go-round due to the surrounding mountains. Not only is the runway very short, at 1,762 feet, it is a downslope runway with a gradient of 18.6% ending at the valley of an adjacent hill. This situation means that pilots risk falling off the edge of the cliff if they do not gain enough speed for take-off.
13. Toncontin Airport - Tegucigalpa, Honduras
This airport is a military and civil airport located four miles inside the mountainous region of Tegucigalpa at an elevation of 3,297 feet. Most Extreme Airports ranked Toncontin as the second most dangerous in the world, with a difficult approach and unpredictable weather conditions. On approach, planes take a sharp 45° turn to access the runway located inside a valley and make a rapid but careful descend. There have been ten accidents at the airport since 1962 resulting in injuries and death.
12. Princess Juliana International Airport - St. Maarten
This airport sits on the Dutch side of the Caribbean Island of Saint Martin, adjacent to Maho Beach and the shore, a factor that contributes to its listing here. Princess Juliana has a low landing approach and flyover. Maho is a public beach bordering the runway and airplanes usually fly few feet above the beach leaving people feeling the jet blast, and consequently, causing water and sand disturbance. Approach to the runway, a 3 degree glide slope flying is over the water, a situation that may cause pilots to miss-judge the altitude using visual flight rules. The departure of the runway is more problematic and requires a sharp turn to avoid hills. The runway is 7,546 feet long and 148 feet wide.
11. Paro Airport - Himalayan Mountains, Bhutan
Also in the Himalayan mountains is the Paro Airport in Bhutan. So risky is this airport that only a few pilots qualify to land on it at anytime. High hills surround the 6,445 foot runway where Bhutan allows only day flights during visible weather conditions. The adjacent peaks require quick descents and ascents. Fewer than 25 pilots are qualified to land on this airport.
10. Gibraltar International - Gibraltar
This airport is a military and civilian airport in the British Overseas territory of Gibraltar. Winston Churchill Avenue, the main road connecting Gibraltar to Spain, passes through the runway and usually closes when a plane lands or departs. Although there is a stop sign for cars, there have been several near collisions. Secondly, the runway experiences strong crosswinds that make landing more difficult during winters. To increase its length, part of the runway sits on land reclaimed from the sea.
9. McMurdo Air Station - Antarctica
Although this airport has plenty of space and no obstructing structures, the ice surface that lasts most parts of the year requires perfect landing. The location has no electricity and also experiences darkness for most of the year due to the movement of the earth, therefore, pilots land using night vision glasses. In 1960, a US Navy plane crashed while landing leading to the injury of the crew, however, they were unable to recover the plane and it sank after the ice melted.
8. Madeira Airport - Portugal
Also called Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira International Airport, this facility has a platform extension on an artificial island to increase its size. Close to 180 pillars hold the platform in place. This fourth biggest airport in Portugal also experiences strong winds that increase the risk of landing on the narrow platform. To land on this extreme airports, pilots must undergo extra training. The ocean and mountains surround this airport that engineers have extended twice since 1982.
7. MCAS Futenma - Okinawa, Japan
Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is a strategic US air station in Okinawa. The first thing that makes the station dangerous is that it is on a small island and the surrounding area has a dense population. In case of an emergency, the surrounding settlements would prove a challenge to evacuate, therefore, potentially leading to serious consequences. The runway is 8,990 feet long and 148 feet wide. Pilots have to land and take-off dangerously close to houses. This risk along with other factors contribute to the never-ending discussion on the station’s relocation.
6. Narsarsuaq Airport - Greenland
Greenland has extreme weather and this airport has ice covering most part of the year. In addition to the ice, the area experiences low visibility, strong winds, and storms, making it a real challenge for pilots to land and take-off. There is an active volcanic feature near the airport that clouds the area in volcanic ash further causing visibility challenges and has a risk of damaging an aircraft.
5. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport - Saba Island
This airport is in the Dutch territory of Saba Island in the Caribbean and has one of the shortest runways for commercial flights, measuring 1,312 feet long. Hills on two sides and cliffs dipping into the sea at both ends of the runway sandwich the runway. With the total island area being a mere five square miles, pilots must be careful to miss the hills, and on landing and taking off, avoid falling into the sea.
4. Damascus International Airport - Syria
Unlike the other airports on this list, Damascus International Airport has no problematic terrain or weather, however, the never-ending civil war and occasional international incidences near this airport make it dangerous. There have been several fighting and killings near the area making the airport only occasionally operational. Surface to air missiles and fighter planes are common around the airport.
3. Barra Airport - Scotland
This airport is the only public beach runway in the world. The three runways are visible during low tides and submerged during high tides, even though the airport has an elevation of five feet above the sea level. Although rare, night landings are possible through the use of motor vehicle lights to enable pilots to see the runway. The three runways form a triangle and are marked using wooden poles at the corners to guide planes.
2. Agatti Aerodrome (AGX) - Lakshadweep, India
This airport sits on an archipelago off India’s west coast and has a short runway that serves over 35 island destinations. In addition to the short runway, there is only narrow strips of land on both sides of the runway and pilots have to position planes careful at the center, in addition to landing and taking off the short runway. The runway is 98 feet wide and 3,950 feet long. Plans to expand the airport by erecting a bridge to the nearby island faced environmental challenges in 2010.
1. Kai Tak Airport - Hong Kong
Although discontinued in 1998, Kai Tak was once the most dangerous airport in the world. With skyscrapers blocking runways and a harbor at the end of the runway, landings became hard to the extent that pilots could no longer see the runway clearly. The nearby mountains caused winds that crossed area further complicating landings. Pilots had to not only be skilled, but also brave enough to land at the airport.