The 10 most dangerous airports in the world to take off and land at continue to challenge the skill of the best pilots on earth. Although aircraft are the safest and fastest way to travel long-distance, aerophobia remains one of the most common phobias in the world, affecting the lives of over 8 million adults, and our today’s list of the 10 most dangerous airports in the world certainly makes those concerns seem at least somewhat justified.
10. Lukla Airport, Nepal
Lukla Airport, set at 2,845 metres above sea level in eastern Nepal, continues to be listed as one of the most dangerous airports in the world, and for a good reason. The short runway and lack of electricity make it difficult to take off and land here even for the most experienced pilots. The airport serves as the fastest way for hikers to reach the foothills of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Don’t be surprised if, at the end of the flight, passengers break out into a thunderous applause to celebrate the safe landing.
9. Courchevel Airport, France
Ever imagined that traveling to a popular ski resort can rank among your life’s riskiest undertakings? Well, it certainly can be the case if you’re planning to land at Courchevel Airport in France, one of the most dangerous airports in Europe. Because of its short runway of only 537 metres long and a downward gradient of 18.6%, only helicopters and small fixed-wing aircraft can land here. Alpine mountainsides clustering around the teeny runway complete the terrifying picture; pilots have no other choice than to fly through a narrow valley to descend.
8. Toncontin Airport, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Located just 6 km away from the centre of Tegucigalpa in Honduras, this airport serves for both civil and military purposes. Surrounded by giant mountains, the airport has seen over 14 accidents related to its short airstrip, the hilly terrain, bad weather conditions, and human error. To facilitate take-offs and landings the single asphalt runway was extended by 300 metres in 2010, which still isn’t enough to ensure the airport’s safety. Cross your fingers and hope for the best until touch down.
7. Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten
Holidaymakers flock to Maho beach in Sint Maarten for the best Instagram shots of Boeing 747s soaring just a few metres overhead. Pilots not only have to be careful not to hit the crowd, but also worry about the short runway. The airstrip is only 2,179 metres long, meaning that landings and take-offs are extremely complicated for large aircraft (at least 2,500 metres are required to ensure a safe landing).
6. Paro Airoport in Bhutan, Himalayan Mountains
Ranked as one of the most dangerous airports in the world and nestled within high peaks at 7,332 feet (2.23 km) above sea level, Paro Airport in Bhutan is equipped with a runway of only 1,981 metres long, and is often plagued by bad weather. Because of this, only a few pilots are qualified to land here. Moreover, landings and take-offs are only allowed during daylight hours and only in good weather conditions. Although dangerous, landing here is a thrilling experience, offering stunning views with a close-up of Mount Everest.
5. Gibraltar International Airport
Gibraltar Airport is listed here for one special reason that makes the airport both dangerous and one-of-a-kind: its main thoroughfare – Winston Churchill Avenue – intersects the airstrip. To avoid accidents, the road has to be closed during take-offs and landings, which creates traffic jams. No wonder it regularly ranks among the most extreme airports in the world.
4. McMurdo Air Station, Antartica
Ross Island is home to one of the most slippery airports in the world – the McMurdo Air Station, a hub for scientific experiments. The three built-on-ice runways (the Phoenix Runway, the Williams Field Skiway, and the Sea Ice Runway) and the bitter cold make it a challenging mission even for the best of pilots. Moreover, due to the lack of lights, the aid of night-vision goggles and reflective cones that outline the runway are necessary to ensure a safe landing.
3. Madeira Airport, Portugal
The airport in Madeira’s capital city of Funchal is continuously listed as one of the most dangerous airports in the world for its narrow runway. The no-way-out landing strip is sandwiched between steep cliffs and the ocean. Soon after the accident in 1977, where 161 people lost their lives, the lengthening of the runway began. Nowadays, the bridge-like airstrip is 2,777 metres long, supported by 180 pillars. Large aircraft can land here, but only if operated by a select few specially trained pilots.
2. Gustaf III Airport, French Antilles
Gustaf III Airport – aka Saint Barthélemy Airport or St. Jean Airport – is located on the Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy. The short airstrip, nestled within mountains, is set at the base of a gentle slope ending in St. Jean Beach. The steep landing and approach make this airport extremely challenging, and only trained pilots can operate take-offs and landings. Moreover, people and vehicles right next to the runway can distract pilots from having a successful landing or take-off.
1. Narsasuaq Airport, Greenland
Located in the southern part of Greenland among fjords, Narsasuaq Airport is the most dangerous airport on today’s list.
For starters, the landing strip is only 1,800 metres long. If that weren’t a challenge in itself, the weather here is often unpredictable, with snow, rain and powerful winds that can be strong enough to make a plane veer off course. To land, planes need to essentially fly into a fjord and make a sharp 90-degree turn to be on the right course for landing. An active volcano not too far from the airport complicates things further: when it last erupted in 2010, the resulting cloud of ash had the potential to damage aircraft engines and ultimately cause a plane crash. Despite all its dangers, the airport continues to receive air traffic, given that it’s the only international air hub in Southern Greenland, but all the risk factors combined earn it the title of “Most Dangerous”.