In terms of traveling long distances, flying on an airplane is one of the fastest, safest, and easiest ways to get to your destination. Unfortunately, sometimes flat stretches of the runway aren't always available in certain places.
This means that pilots have to be particularly skilled to land on a runway that juts out from a mountain or one that appears in a narrow valley. Bearing that in mind, here are 10+ of the most dangerous airports in the world to land.
1. Saba Airport is a hazardous airport to approach
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, otherwise known as Saba Airport, is yet another of the world's most dangerous airports. Located on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba, it lies about 45 kilometers south of St. Maarten.
Its runway is a pitiful 400 meters long, making it one of the shortest commercial airports in the world too. This tiny runway length means only the very best pilots have what it takes to safely land and take off from it.
But its short runway is not the only hazards would-be approaching pilots need to be aware of. The airport is surrounded by jagged terrain and a sharp left bank immediately before landing.
It might be safer to take the ferry or swim if you want to visit this place.
2. Congonhas Airport has a very short runway
Congonhas Airport is located in Sao Paulo, is another of the world's most dangerous airports. Another airport with a short runway is also located in a heavily-built up portion of the enormous city.
One of four airports serving the city, it has become famed for its risky runways that are often accused of being too slippery due to a common build-up of sitting water on it. But claims about it being dangerous are not just hearsay.
Over the years there have been some very serious accidents at the airport. One notable example occurred in 2007 when TAM Airlines Airbus A320 overran runway 35L during heavy rain.
It crashed into a nearby warehouse, killing 187 people on board and 12 civilians on the ground. This disaster led to a serious upgrade to the runway and other injunctions on the airport's international status.
3. You might want to avoid traveling to Telluride Regional Airport
Telluride Regional Airport is located in southwest Colorado is widely considered one of the most dangerous in the world. Around 5 miles (8km) west of the town of Telluride, it is one of the highest airports by elevation in America.
It was built in the 1980s and boasts over 9,000 operations a year, at least before the current COVID-19 crisis. While actually quite safe in reality, the approach to it is quite hair-raising, to say the least.
Located on a small plateau surrounded by sheer cliffs at either end, pilots need to overcome strong vertical turbulence during winter months. Not only that, but each end of the runway is actually slightly higher than the middle, earning it the nickname of "the dip".
Many passengers who've risked the trip will attest to the white-knuckle ride that visiting the airport produces.
4. Svalbard Airport is actually built on permafrost
Built on permafrost, Svalbard airport is not only one of the world's most dangerous airports, but is also an engineering marvel in its own right. Located in Norway's Arctic archipelago. the runway is insulated against the ground to prevent melting during summer months.
While its safety record is excellent, its location as one of the world's northernmost airport can make flights to it very challenging. Inclement weather and its proximity to the Earth's magnetic north pole can create visibility and navigational difficulties for even the best pilots.
For these reasons, one of Norway's worst air accidents occurred at this airport in 1996. A flight bound for Longyearbyen crashed into a mountain after being about 3.2 km off its approach centerline, killing all 141 passengers on board.
Crash investigations later concluded that pilot error was the cause of the crash.
5. Wellington International Airport is built in the mountains
Located in New Zealand, Wellington International Airport is yet another of the world's most dangerous airports. Featuring 6,350 feet+ (1935 meters) long runway, both ends appear to start and end in water.
Approach to it is very tricky for pilots as the airport is located in a mountainous area of the country. It is also famed for its gusty winds which make maneuvering for landings particularly tricky.
Other than that, the airport has in the past been recognized as having on the best terminals in the world. Despite this, it is constantly ranked as one of the scariest places to land anywhere in the world.
6. Gisborne Airport has a rail track running through it
Another entry from New Zealand, Gisborne Airport is also considered to be one of the world's most dangerous airports. Located on the outskirts of Gisborne, this airport actually has a railway intersecting its runway at one point.
It has three grass runways and one main runway, landings require coordination with accurate train approaches. For this reason, it is not uncommon for either planes or trains to be stopped to allow the other to safely pass.
7. Lukla Airport is nestled in the Himalayas
The Lukla Airport, technically Tenzing–Hillary Airport, in Nepal serves as the main airport for those visiting Mt. Everest. Part of what makes this airport so difficult to land in is how it is nestled in between mountains and the incredibly short length of the runway.
In fact, the whole terminal is quite small. There are no lights and little electric power, so landing in anything other than perfect conditions becomes even riskier.
There are also no air traffic controllers on site, so pilots are on their own to touch down in sometimes large aircraft. It's also one of the highest airports you can find.
8. Courchevel International Airport has one of the world's shortest runways
Video of a landing at the Courchevel airport went viral a few years ago as it has the shortest runway of any airport in the world at 525 meters (1722 feet). Not only this but the paved runway has a downward gradient of 18.5% which makes taking off even more difficult.
To add on top of the already difficult landing, the runway is built right into the Alps where pilots have to fly through a narrow valley even to prepare for descent. If aircraft do not gain enough speed by the end of the runway, they simply fly off the edge of a cliff, hoping for the best.
9. Toncontin Airport, Tegucigalpa, Honduras is built in a valley
As you may have noticed, airports located the mountains are very hard to land on due to their varying terrain and often short approaches. Toncontin Airport is no different.
In order for planes to prepare for the descent, they must make a quick 45-degree bank turn to reach the runway in a valley. After this bank, planes must rapidly drop in altitude, being careful not to scrape the terrain directly underneath.
High altitude makes flights to this city a real challenge.
10. The approach to Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten is actually a beach
Like some other runways in the Caribbean Sea, Princess Juliana Airport, located in Saint Maarten, is perhaps the most famous on the list. This is, in part, because of the public beach situated just before the runway.
This often results in large and loud gusts of wind and sand engulfing those enjoying the crystal blue water. For the pilots, hitting visitors is the least of their worries.
The runway is only 2,179 meters long, which is very short considering the large aircraft that land here requires more than 2,500 meters to ensure a safe landing. Princess Juliana was initially built for smaller planes, but the booming tourist industry has brought A340s and 747s into the regular traffic rotation.
11. Only a handful of pilots can land at Paro Airport
Tucked away in the Himalayas, Paro Airport is famous for being one of the world's most dangerous to land at. In fact, it is so risky to attempt to land, and takeoff, a plane there that only a handful of pilots are qualified to do so.
Located in Bhutan, the airport lies about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) above sea level. Sounds pleasant enough, but be mindful that the airport is surrounded by sharp peaks up to 18,000 feet (just under 5,500 meters) tall.
Its runway is 6,500 feet (1,980 m) long which makes it one of the few airports to have a shorter runway than its elevation above the sea. Those pilots capable of landing there are required to undertake a seemingly death-defying path through the natural hazards and the few random houses scattered across the mountainside.
Only the bravest pilots, and passengers, ever roll the dice when traveling there.
12. Gibraltar International Airport has a street running through it
Gibraltar International Airport is probably the most extreme airport in Southern Europe. While this runway isn't particularly hard to land at, but an interesting design feature makes it incredibly dangerous.
The main street in the area, Winston Churchill Avenue, intersects the runway and has to be closed when a plane needs to land. There is a stoplight on the road telling cars to stop, but there have been a number of close calls in the airport's history.
13. McMurdo Air Station in Antarctica can get pretty icy
Not many people travel to Antarctica, which means that the airport infrastructure there is significantly lacking. This runway isn't particularly short, but it is made of slick ice which can cause planes to run askew if the landing isn't perfect.
Temperatures here are below freezing on average the entire year. In 1970 there as a bad crash of a C-121 that still sits off to the side buried in snow.
Many months out of the year it is dark continuously, and due to the lack of lights, pilots are trained to land using night vision goggles.
14. Landing at Madeira Airport in Portugal is a white knuckle ride
Madeira Airport is one of the few in the world where engineers build a runway platform in order to expand. The landing strip sits between steep cliffs and the shores of the ocean.
Pilots simply don't have enough space to land. When an expansion project was planned, designers saw that the only option was to build a series of platforms on an artificial island extending from the current runway.
Over 180 columns hold the runway up which has to withstand serious shock loading during landings.
15. MCAS Futenma, Okinawa has high density housing nearby
Similar to Antarctica, the extreme airports in Greenland are constantly covered in ice. At only 1,800 meters in length, and canvassed in slick ice, this runway is the most difficult in the world for any pilot.
The weather is constantly stormy creating intense turbulence and low visibility on approach making it the worst airport in the world for both flight staff as well as passengers. Shear winds affect planes which, coupled with the icy runway, can direct them off course.
The nearby active volcano also commonly erupts sending ash into the clouds which can stall and destroy engines. The time of landing is also one of the things you have to consider.
And that's a wrap.
Have you ever traveled to any of these airports? Are they as dangerous as people say?
Let us know in the comment.