Scariest Airport Runways in the World

Posted on 1 August 2023 By David Henning

Air travel has brought us closer to some of the most breathtaking and remote corners of the globe, but some airports boast runways that demand nerves of steel from pilots and passengers alike. From perilous descents amidst towering mountains to runways submerged during high tide, can you brave some of the scariest airport runways in the world?

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Scariest airport runways in the world

Paro Airport – Bhutan

Picture: Pexels

In the majestic Himalayas of Bhutan, only 17 licensed pilots are permitted to navigate its treacherous approach of Paro Airport. Encircled by imposing 5400-metre mountain peaks, landing demands precision and nerves of steel. Pilots navigate a 45-degree angle descent, threading their way between mountains before swooping down onto the runway.

Matekane Air strip, Lesotho

Matekane air strip. Picture: Wikimedia Commons/ Tom Claytor

Matekane Airstrip looks like an absurd place to put a runway (and its not the only one on our list to be on the edge of a cliff), it looks more like a landing strip for an evil villain’s lair.

Measuring 400m, it’s one of the shortest runways in the world and the treacherous drop at the edge of the cliff is a sheer 500m drop. Definitely not a destination for the faint-hearted, the airstrip is used by doctors and charity organisations to service rural villages in the area.

Lukla Airport – Nepal

Everest runway

Picture: Unsplash

Located near Mt. Everest through freezing terrain, Lukla Airport in Nepal is the prime airport for anyone visiting Mt. Everest. Positioned between mountains with a very short runway, the landing can be as dramatic as the ascent to the famed mountain. Sometimes there is no electric power at the airport, adding an extra challenge for pilots who must stay in constant communication with air controllers during the approach.

Wellington International Airport – New Zealand

Landing at Wellington International Airport is a formidable challenge for even seasoned pilots. With both ends seemingly starting and ending in the water, the 1 900-metre runway requires expert handling, especially in the mountainous, blustery region. Strong winds test the pilot’s skills during landing, sometimes sending gusts that even knock passengers off their feet.

McMurdo Station – Antarctica

Embracing the extreme, McMurdo Station’s Ice Runway in Antarctica is constructed entirely of compacted snow, this runway serves the US Antarctic Program during the summer months. Landing on the exposed volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula requires pilots to brave darkness and whiteouts. With no lights on the runway, pilots are trained to land blindly.

St Helena Airport

St Helena

Picture: Wikimedia Commons/ Paul Tyson

Situated on the island where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled, lies another airstrip on the top of a cliff in the middle of the Atlantic.

The airport is on one of the only flat stretches of land on the island, but it’s situated in a tumultuous vortex of winds. When it’s too windy to land, the aircraft will head all the way to Ascension Island, 1200 km away, or back to South Africa or Namibia.

Airlink flies directly to St Helena Island, for those who would like a more wayward adventure.

Gibraltar International Airport 

Gibraltar International Airport takes creativity to new heights, intersecting with Winston Churchill Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare. When planes prepare to land, the avenue is closed, signalling drivers to halt. Although intriguing, the short runway’s abrupt end by the water requires pilots to brake swiftly after touchdown.

Toncontin Airport – Honduras

Positioned in Honduras near a valley, Toncontin Airport demands a dramatic and quick turn during landing, akin to landing on an aircraft carrier. Wind gusts and poor weather conditions make direct head-on landings challenging, adding to the thrill for passengers.

Madeira Airport International Christiana Ronaldo – Portugal

Madeira airport

Picture: Unsplash

Named after Christiana Ronaldo, this airport stands on an artificial island with over 180 columns supporting the runway. Pilots rarely land solely by instruments, relying on landmarks to navigate their approach. Strong gusts, tall mountains, and the ocean on one side make landing a formidable task.

Princess Juliana International Airport – Saint Maarten

Named after Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, this airport in the Caribbean requires very low flyover landing approaches due to its proximity to Maho Beach. Planes land low over the public beach, giving beachgoers a blast of wind and sand. Tourists gather near the beach to capture thrilling photos and videos of planes landing.

Courchevel Altiport – France

The runway at Courchevel Altiport in the French Alps is just 1,762 feet long with a pronounced 18.6% uphill grade. Pilots must meet specific requirements to use this airport, including completing a test administered by a mountain flight instructor and flying there every six months.

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Saba Airport – Dutch Caribbean

Located on the island of Saba, Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport has one of the world’s shortest commercial airport runways. At only 400 metres long. The approach is almost at a cliff, alongside the jagged terrain of Saba and then a sharp bank left before an immediate landing.

Narsarsuaq Airport – Greenland

This airport is located in the southern part of Greenland and in the middle of countless Fjords. The strong winds are the most threatening element to landing on the 6,000-foot runway. And don’t even think about visiting here if the neighboring volcano erupts with blinding ash.

Barra International Airport – Scotland

This airport is located on the beach in the shallow bay of Traigh Mhòr on a remote island. Pilots flying to the airport have to worry about severe weather conditions as well as rising tides. The runway is only a few metres above sea level and completely submerged during high tide.

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