Everyone feels a slight spin in their head and a churn in their stomach when a plane takes off or lands – but imagine landing on an air strip that is really narrow or needs sharp risky turns or has to battle mountains, winds and the seas before it sits safely on the ground.
Willing to take a risk or not, is something we leave on you but see which white-knuckle, nail-biting airport approaches made the list.
1. Courchevel Airport, Courchevel, France
The runway is uphill and the other side has a vertical drop.
Located in the fancy schmancy French town, Courchevel, this airport has an uphill runway that measures just 1722 feet. The other side of the runway has a plain vertical drop, off the side of the mountain. Remember the opening scene of the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies anyone? That was Courchevel airport.
2. Princess Juliana International Airport, Netherlands
The planes fly very low over tourists on the beach.
Maho Beach is literally a few steps away from the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport. With planes flying very low over tourists chilling on the beach, and owing to its short runway length (7150 feet), planes need to fly over the beach at minimal altitude.
Take-off involves a sharp turn to the right, actually a u-turn, to avoid the mountains that loom large at the end of the runway.
3. Madeira Airport, Madeira, Portugal
It has an extremely narrow runway and requires the pilots to fly towards the mountains and then quickly turn and descend in the final approach.
Even the most experienced pilot may have trouble landing on this next runway located on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Known for its extremely narrow runway, it requires pilots to fly toward the mountains then quickly turn and descend in the final approach. Roller coaster rides, anyone?
By the way, a Boeing 727 jet overshot the runway on its descent, hydroplaned and crashed, leaving 131 people dead.
4. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal
The runway is at a 12% slope and is subject to super-fast winds, cloud cover and changing visibility.
Also known as Lukla Airport, Tenzing-Hillary Airport is known as one of the world’s most dangerous airports. Sitting in the heart of the Himalayas, the airport is at an altitude of 9000 feet and faces the wrath of super-fast winds, cloud cover and changing visibility. The 1500-foot runway is at a 12 percent slope and it abruptly drops off 2000 feet to a river valley below. Jet stunts, anyone?
5. Barra International Airport, Barra, Scotland
The plane lands directly on the beach and the landings depend on the tide.
At Barra International Airport on the Outer Hebridean Island of Barra in Scotland, the plane lands directly on the beach. Not kidding! All the landings here depend on the tide – at high tide, the runway is completely underwater. And car headlights come handy and provide additional lighting when there is decreased visibility.
6. Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar
It has two water bodies on either side and main highway for vehicles runs right across the runway.
Not only does the 6000-feet runway sport the Mediterranean ocean on its eastern side and the Bay of Gibraltar on its western side does, the air strip has water on both sides and the main highway for cars and other vehicles runs right across the airport’s runway. How’s that for a landing?
7. Hechi Airport, China
It is a 1.4 mile-long and 150 feet wide runway built at 2200 feet above sea level, on top of 65 mountains with a 1000 feet drop on one side.
Hechi Airport in China’s Guangxi province was built at 2200 feet above sea level, on top of 65 mountains. Engineers leveled off the mountain tops to create a 1.4 mile-long and 150 feet wide runway with a 1000 feet sheer drop on one side. That sounds like a super-sure doom. I’d prefer to trek, please.
8. Toncontin International Airport, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
With a short runway in a mountainous terrain, the fast winds can make the pilots take risky sharp turns.
A short runway + mountainous terrain + fast winds due to high altitude = disaster of a landing! The mountainous terrain also forces pilots approaching the runway to make a risky sharp turn in order to line up with the runway. In May 2008, an Airbus A320 overshot the runway and killed five people.
9. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Netherlands
It has a high possibility of overshooting the runway and is surrounded by steep hills on one side and cliffs on the other side.
The Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport is surrounded by steep hills on one side and cliffs on the other side. It singles itself out as the only airport on the Dutch Caribbean island Saba and has a high possibility of overshooting the runway. And if that happens, it means that a plane could end up in the ocean. Oh the game of probability!
10. Male International Airport, Maldives
Built on an atoll, the runway is just six feet above the ocean and very near to the ocean.
Landing at the gorgeous Maldives could be a daunting experience. It has one runway, which was built on its very own atoll (YES, on an ATOLL), named Hulhule, and is only six feet above sea level. That’s like, really, really near to the ocean! A minor miscalculation could send a plane steering its way off into the Indian Ocean. Real respect for people who survived the chance.
11. Paro Airport, Bhutan
With only 8 pilots qualified to land here, it is located in a (very) deep valley on the banks of the river Paro Chhu at an elevation of 7300 feet.
Surrounded by sharp peaks as high as 18000 feet, Paro Airport is located in a deep valley on the banks of the river Paro Chhu at an elevation of 7300 feet. Even if the view is breathtaking and arresting, it is considered so challenging that only eight pilots are qualified to land there.
12. Saint Barthelemy Airport, Saint-Barthelemy
Owing to a short 2100 feet airstrip, the planes usually descend extremely close over the heads of people on the beach.
Located in the luxurious Caribbean islands it is also known as St. Barth’s Gustaf Airport. Owning a short 2100 feet airstrip, the planes usually descend extremely close over the heads of people on the beach and nearby traffic while approaching the airstrip. Careful there, descending too fast can land your plane straight into the St. Jean’s beach.
13. Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland
Landing involves flying up a fjord, battling severe turbulence, and overcoming the risk of meeting icebergs departure/arrival path.
Located in a settlement in the Kujalleq municipality in southern Greenland, it is one of the most beautiful runways ever built. But it comes with a risk. Landing involves flying up a fjord, and if that’s not enough of a challenge, severe turbulence and wind shear can attack anytime. There’s also the risk of icebergs drifting into the departure/arrival path. The next time you’re on a flight and you thought of starting a small talk with your co-passenger, your conversation starter is sorted.