Flying can be a nerve-racking experience for fretful travelers. However, landings at some airports are sure to frighten even the most frequent flyers.
What constitutes a dangerous airport? Physical and environmental factors like short runways, high altitudes, or unpredictable weather weigh heavily. So do approach and departure paths close to densely populated areas. There are otherwise-safe airports that are smack in the middle of conflict zones, and some airports are just scary as hell to fly into or out of.
Here, in no implied order, are 10 of the most dangerous airports in the world:
1. Lukla Airport – Nepal
This famous runway is the main airport for those visiting Mt. Everest. Nestled between mountains, this airport has an incredibly short length of the runway, making landings very difficult. At times, there are no air traffic controllers on site so pilots must touch down on their own. With no lights and little electrical power, landing in any condition, windy or perfect, is risky.
2. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport – Saba Island
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport is located approximately 45 kilometers south of St. Maarten, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba. With a runway of only 400 meters in total length, this makes it the world’s shortest commercial airport runway.
Although the landing strip looks nothing short of incredible, it is considered the most dangerous airport for landing. This runway makes landing a challenge for even the most skilled pilots around.
3. Princess Juliana International Airport – St. Maarten
Another airport located on the Dutch Caribbean with an incredibly dangerous runway is Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten. It is perhaps the most famous on the list of airports, with a public beach located just before the runway.
This makes for some very large and loud gusts of wind and sand disrupting beachgoers, trying to enjoy the beautiful, blue water. Hitting visitors isn’t the issue for pilots though; their main concern is the short runway, only 2,179 meters in length.
This may sound like a pretty long runway; however, when you take into consideration that most large aircraft require more than 2,500 meters to ensure a safe landing, it’s enough to make the best pilot sweat a little.
4. Narsarsuaq Airport – Greenland
Greenland is certainly not as green as it sounds it is quite white and icy. Similar to Antarctica, the airports in Greenland are cold and covered in ice. This makes for difficult landings. Narsarsuaq Airport in Greenland is possibly one of the most difficult runways in the world to land in.
With a runway coated in slick ice and only 1,800 meters in length, landing is incredibly stressful. If the ice isn’t trying enough, constant stormy weather creates intense turbulence and low visibility on approach, and the nearby active volcano erupts sending ash into the sky frequently, threatening to stall and ruin engines.
5. McMurdo Air Station – Antarctica
Another offender on the dangerous airport list is McMurdo Air Station in Antarctica. Averaging below-freezing temperatures, 365 days of the year, flying into the U.S. Antarctic Station can test even the best pilot.
While the runways are long, they are made of ice, and the weather is variable. If you’re not phased by the freezing temperatures, at the right time of year, knowing your pilots are landing the plane using night vision goggles because it’s dark all day, might just change your mind.
6. Toncontin Airport – Honduras
While the mountains around Toncontin Airport are stunning, they’re just one hurdle to overcome for a safe landing. Toncontin Airport is situated in a valley 1,004 meters above sea level, and due to surrounding mountainous terrain, pilots need to make a 45-degree bank to effectively reach the runway.
Due to this, passengers experience a quick drop in altitude making eardrums pop and stomachs raise. Frequent winds in the area complicate landings, and as a result, pilots are forced to make several last-second adjustments when landing.
7. Paro Airport – Bhutan
This airport, nestled in the Himalayan Mountains, sits some 2225 meters above sea level and is surrounded by peaks as high as 5486 meters high.
Located right on the banks of the river Paro Chu, the terrain is unforgiving and the weather so incredibly severe that flights are allowed only under visual meteorological conditions and are restricted to daylight hours. It’s no wonder that only a handful of pilots worldwide are qualified to land at Paro Airport in Bhutan.
8. Madeira Airport – Portugal
Situated between steep cliffs and the ocean shores, the airport’s short runway is known well for its inconsistent winds. Winds aren’t the only stressful factor though. In 2000 the Madeira Airport runway was extended to approximately 2780 meters.
A large portion of the runway extension is built on a platform over the ocean and is supported by 180 columns. This means that if you drift too far on a bad day, your airplane could just go over the side.
9. MCAS in Futenma – Japan
While not a commercial airport, the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa Japan is one of the most dangerous in the world. With F/A-18 Hornets and V-22 Osprey continuously taking off and landing, the airport is an incredible sight to see. While the spectacle of jets soaring might be beautiful, the airport is situated in a high-density area, making landings difficult.
10. Kai Tak Airport – Hong Kong
Strong crosswinds and surrounding mountains made Kai Tak Airport one of the world’s most dangerous airports. With numerous skyscrapers also located to the north of the airport and its only runway jutting out into Victoria Harbour, landings were incredibly dramatic and technically demanded pilots.
Christened “the mother of all scary airports,” it closed in 1998 with the new Hong Kong International Airport opening at Chek Lap Kok, 30 kilometers to the west.