Skip to comments.The World's 10 Scariest Runways (Photos)
Posted on 04/14/2008 6:51:38 AM PDT by yankeedame
And now for the top ten scariest runways in the world...
#1 of 10
Paro Airport Bhutan
Who Flies There: Druk Air, the national carrier.
Why Its Harrowing: Tucked into a tightly cropped valley and surrounded by 16,000-foot-high serrated Himalayan peaks, this is arguably the worlds most forbidding airport to fly into. It requires specially trained pilots to maneuver into this stomach-dropping aerie by employing visual flying rules and then approaching and landing through a narrow channel of vertiginous tree-covered hillsides
#2 of 10
Princess Juliana International Airport St. Maarten
Who Flies There: All major U.S. airlines, as well as Paris-based charter carrier Corsairfly, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and a handful of regional operators.
Why Its Harrowing: The length of the runwayjust 7,152 feetis perfectly fine for small or medium-size jets, but as the second-busiest airport in the Eastern Caribbean, it regularly welcomes so-called heavieslong-haul wide-body jetliners like Boeing 747s and Airbus A340sfrom Europe, which fly in improbably low over Maho Beach and skim just over the perimeter fence
#3 of 10
Reagan National Airport Washington, D.C.
Who Flies There: All major U.S. airlines.
Why Its Harrowing: Flying around Washington, D.C., is fraught with periljust ask the pilot of a small aircraft that drifted into restricted airspace in March 2008, causing Congress to be evacuated and military planes to be scrambled. Located smack in the center of two overlapping air-exclusion zones, Reagan National requires pilots flying the so-called River Visual into the airport to follow the Potomac while steering clear of sensitive sites such as the Pentagon and CIA headquarters before making a steep turn and landing on this natural peninsula. Taking off, too, is a white-knuckle event in which pilots are required to climb quickly and execute a steep left bank to avoid flying over the White House.
#4 of 10
Gibraltar Airport Gibraltar
Who Flies There: Air Malta, British Airways, EasyJet, Iberia Airlines, and Monarch Airlines.
Why Its Harrowing: Pinched in by the Mediterranean on its eastern flank and the Bay of Algeciras on its western side, the airports truncated runway stretches just 6,000 feet and requires pinpoint precision. And upon hitting the tarmac, pilots must quickly and fully engage the auto-breaks. Yet as nerve-racking as the landing can be, its never guaranteed. Because of Gibraltars unique topography, the British colony endures unusual localized weather patterns that cause flights to be diverted to nearby Tangiers, Faro, and Malaga.
#5 of 10
Matekane Air Strip Lesotho
Who Flies There: Charities delivering aid, and the occasional bush pilot.
Why Its Harrowing: Because of the diminutive 1,312-foot-long runway perched at the edge of a couloir at 7,550 feet, becoming airborne at the end of the tarmac is virtually impossible. Instead, you drop down the face of a 2,000-foot cliff until you start flying. Says bush pilot Tom Claytor, "The rule in the mountains is that it is better to take off downwind and downhill than into wind and uphill, because in Lesotho, the hills will usually out-climb you. It's a little bit hard to do the first time."
#6 of 10
Barra Airport Barra, Scotland
Who Flies There: British Airways and Flybe.
Why Its Harrowing: Have you ever landed on a beach? The airport on the tiny Outer Hebridean Island of Barra is actually a wide shallow bay onto which scheduled planes land, making it a curiosity in the world of aviation. Admittedly, the roughness of the landings is determined by how the tide goes out to sea. Locals, who are avid cockle pickers, steer clear of the vast swath of hardened sand when the wind sock is upa sign that specially rigged Twin Otter propeller aircraft are incoming.
#7 of 10
Toncontín Airport Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Who Flies There: American Airlines, Continental, Copa Airlines, TACA, Islena Airlines, and Aerolineas Sosa.
Why Its Harrowing: Having negotiated the rough-hewn mountainous terrain, pilots must execute a dramatic 45-degree, last-minute bank to the left just minutes prior to touching down in a bowl-shaped valley on a runway just 6,112 feet in length. The airport, at an altitude of 3,294 feet, can accommodate aircraft no larger than Boeing 757s.
#8 of 10
John F. Kennedy International Airport New York
Who Flies There: All major U.S., European, and Asian airlines.
Why Its Harrowing: Parkway Visuala.k.a. the Canarsie Approachis the especially daunting flyway here, since pilots have to avoid interfering with flights into New Yorks two other close-by airports, LaGuardia and Newark. Set up in 1964 as a noise-abatement measure to pacify angry residents, this approach forces pilots to have a reported 1,500-foot ceiling and a five-mile visibility for their circular approach before lining up with runway 13L, with the threatening waters of Jamaica Bay beckoning at the runways end.
#9 of 10
Madeira Airport Funchal
Who Flies There: Most scheduled (and many charter) European carriers.
Why Its Harrowing: Wedged in by mountains and the Atlantic, Madeira Airport requires a clockwise approach for which pilots are specially trained. Despite a unique elevated extension that was completed back in 2000 and now expands the runway length to what should be a comfortable 9,000 feet, the approach to Runway 05 remains a hair-raising affair that pilots absolutely dread. They must first point their aircraft at the mountains and, at the last minute, bank right to align with the fast-approaching runway.
#10 of 10
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport Saba, Netherlands Antilles
Who Flies There: Windward Islands Airways (Winair).
Why Its Harrowing: Perched on a precipitous gale-battered peninsula on the islands northeastern corner, the airport requires pilots to tackle blustery trade winds, occasional spindrift, and their own uneasy constitutions as they maneuver in for a perfect landing (theres no margin for error) on a runway thats just 1,300 feet long. "Shorting this means ending up in the cliffs," says one pilot matter-of-factly, "while overshooting it means an uncomfortable go-around. Either way, youll want to bring the Dramamine."
A few of those appear to have a high pucker factor.
Since I travel to Honduras fairly regularly, I know folks who fly to Tegucigalpa, Honduras although I’ve never done it myself. To a man, they claim it’s one of the most gut wrenching experiences they’ve ever had flying, at least under normal circumstances. All of us frequent flyer types know those huge drops and such in storms, but apparently the landing at Tegucigalpa is a not-soon-forgotten event.
I flew into Tegucigalpa recently and a woman next to me was praying during the entire approach.
Interesting article, thanks! I’ve been to St Maarten maybe 20 times (worked on a cruise ship) but as you might imagine...never by plane!
My husband was part of Task Force Aguan after the hurricane Mitch hit Honduras. I went to visit him for 2 weeks since he has family there. He would not let me fly into Tegucigalpa. I had to land in San Pedro Sula. He said it was too dangerous to land in Tegucigalpa.
Being in the NYC area, I’m surprised to see JFK Airport on this list. I’ve had two airline pilots tell me that LaGuardia Airport is the worst place for them to fly . . . mainly because they say the runway that extends out into Flushing Bay is too short.
Matekane looks quite exciting.
In St martaan, at the beginning of the landing strip there are 2 bars on either side. And folks go and lay on the beach and let Air France fly right over them!
I always try to get a flight out of BWI even though Reagan National would be more convenient for business travel. I just don’t like the steep approach/departure. I never liked practicing steep turns when I was learning to fly a 4-seater and I certainly don’t like them when I’m flying commercial. There’s a lot to be said for nice, gradual ascents and descents as far as I’m concerned.
Very cool post. Thanks.
Yeah, I've flown into San Pedro on every trip. It's a cakewalk over the bananas, sugar cane and palm oil trees. Even in heavy rain there isn't much bouncing or anything. Of course, its 4 hours to Tegucigalpa from San Pedro by car. In all my trips, I think Anchorage in February and Vegas on a 110 day are among the worst. Oh and this one time into Incheon Korea while a cyclone was rolling through was pretty scary...even in a 747.
Several years ago I flew with a missionary pilot friend from a village in Equador. The runway was about 1500 feet long, and the plane was overloaded by about 100 lbs. Our wheels barely cleared the ground as we reached the end of the runway and a 4,000 foot shear drop-off. We dropped about 500-600 ft before we had enough airspeed to climb. I was praying all the way, and Steve was grinning.
I used to fly frequently out of K.C. Municipal before KCI was built. Was always white knuckled until we cleared the sky-scrapers.
That landing in Korea sounds like a white knuckle thing. Glad you survived. I haven’t had many bad landings, but the worst I think are the little puddle jumpers that look like the operate on rubber band power. I’ve had to take a few from New Orleans LA to Lafayette LA. The landings aren’t too bad, but the turbulence and cramped quarters are killer.
Someday, I have promised myself that I will go to St. Maarten, and I will lie on Maho Beach and watch the jumbos scream in over my head. It’s plane geek paradise...in paradise.
A few they didn’t mention on there, and I don’t have pictures for them but you can Google them to see how crazy they are:
St. Barts (TFFJ)
Courcheval, France (on the side of a mountain)
Lukla, Nepal (high in the Himalayas)
You come over the bridge on final, then over the water to land on 1900 ft. Trees, wind, a hill to your East, man you have to earn it.
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