It’s worrying just how many airports there are in the world that are considered, for one reason or another, to be dangerous. Some of these airports are obviously dangerous because they have been built on a mountain and the runway ends at a cliff edge. Then there are those airports located at ground level but are surrounded by a high-density of houses and skyscrapers – the ultimate security hazard. And then there are those airports are that simply plagued by horrendous weather, depending on where they are in the world. Check out some of the most dangerous airports on the planet that should probably be avoided…
Alexandros Papadiamantis Airport, Skiathos
It’s certainly not the most beautiful airport on this list, in terms of the landscape that it was built on. However, the Alexandros Papadiamantis Airport in Skiathos is undoubtedly a sight for sore eyes due to how close pedestrians can get to the planes flying above.
Due to its runway being so short and close to a public road, passersby can easily get close and take incredible closeup photos of the planes. Make no mistake about it though – this is not safe.
Courchevel International Airport
It makes sense for a mountain range like the French Alps to have its own “airport.” However, that brings its own problems. Seeing that the Courchevel Airport has a runway that is only 1,700 feet and an 18.5% downward gradient, it’s extremely difficult for planes to take off.
It also means that pilots only get one chance to land properly. And that’s not all. The airport offers no light aids for incoming and outgoing planes during the darkest and windiest conditions.
Agatti Airport, India
If there is a type of location that requires an airport more than most other places, then it has to be a remote island. Agatti Island, located off the coast of India, is a prime example of this.
However, it’s undeniable that its airport looks weird upon first glance. This is because it takes up a large part of one of the island’s tips. At 3,950 feet long and only 98 feet wide, there is next to no land on either side of the runway.
Tenzing-Hillary (Lukla) Airport, Nepal
If you’re planning on climbing Mount Everest anytime soon, then you’re probably going to need to use Tenzing Hillary Airport. However, “Lukla” is in a precarious position that makes it undoubtedly one of the more dangerous airports around.
Nestled between mountains and with an extremely short runway, Tenzing-Hillary has been known to have power cuts, causing communication issues between the pilots and air controllers. Don’t forget the 2,000 drop into a valley at the end of the runway…
Congonhas Airport (Sao Paulo), Brazil
Whenever an airport is located in a part of the city that is full of buildings and skyscrapers, it never makes things easier for the pilot. Sao Paulo’s Congonhas Airport is a prime example of this, with a short runway that makes things even more difficult for planes trying to land and take off from here.
Passengers often feel like they are on the verge of hitting one of the many skyscrapers as they land.
Svalbard Airport, Norway
There is no denying that Svalbard is a stunning place to visit. However, it’s pretty tough to get to. Built completely on ice, Svalbard Airport forbids pilots from landing or taking off during night hours.
This means that this Norwegian archipelago of islands can be extremely difficult to get to during the winter. Seeing that water flows from the mountains underneath the runway, the airport needed to build on permafrost so that the surface would not melt during the summer.
Gisborne Airport, New Zealand
While Wellington International Airport has its own problems, another airport based in New Zealand, Gisborne has a safety hazard unique unto itself. It’s incredible to think that this airport has a railway that intersects directly through the airport’s runway.
While there are runways on this list that coincide with streets, this is the only one that has a railway going straight through it. As a result, the train line and airline work in tandem to ensure that planes and trains never collide.
Tioman Airport, Malaysia
This is another one of those airports that forces pilots to make extreme turns just before they land. On Tioman Island, Malaysia, pilots need to make a rapid 90-degree turn in order to avoid one of the mountains close to the airport. That’s not all though.
If the plane does manage to avoid the mountain, the pilot then needs to make a quick and abrupt landing in order to make sure that it doesn’t tip over the cliff at the end of the runway.
Barra Airport, Scotland
There is no denying that Barra Airport looks unlike any other on the planet. Located in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides on a remote island, pilots often have to take into consideration high tides and weather conditions if they want to take off from the sandy runways.
During high tide, all of the runways are completely submerged and are therefore impossible to use. Pilots are also not permitted to land on the island at night unless it is for an emergency.
Gustaf III Airport, St. Bart’s
Also known by its less common moniker, St. Jean Airport, Gustaf III is undoubtedly dangerous due to where the runway starts and ends.
Seeing that it starts on a slope and ends at a beach, there is no denying that this airport is full of hazards, not just for bystanders, but also for the pilots who land and take off from here. Similar to St. Maarten’s airport, planes have to fly precariously close to beachgoers’ heads.
Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
Although Hong Kong might be famous for its stunning skyline, amongst other things, its old airport Kai Tak left a lot to be desired when it came to health and safety.
The skyline is a blessing and a curse, especially when you take into consideration the planes who have to maneuver around these towering giants. Not to mention the many mountains surrounding the airport and high winds that come with them. No wonder Kai Tak was forced to close down in 1998.
Damascus International Airport, Syria
What many of the airports on this list have in common is how dangerous they are due to severe weather. Damascus International Airport doesn’t really have that sort of problem, seeing that it is located in Syria.
Also, unlike many others on this list, this airport is on a flat piece of land and surrounded by plenty of space. Make no mistake about it though, danger takes many forms and Syria hasn’t been the safest country in recent times due to civil war.
Toncontin International Airport, Honduras
Landing a plane at Honduras’ Toncontin Airport is by no means a straightforward task. Pilots have no choice but to turn sharply before landing close to the valley, and this is even tougher when the weather gets worse.
Most Extreme Airports, a show that aired on the History Channel, ranked Toncontin as the second most extreme airport on the planet. There have been a number of noteworthy accidents over the last 50+ years, normally because of the awkward plane approach.
MCAS Futenma Okinawa, Japan
This is another airport that is dangerous, but not for the reasons you might expect. The US Military primarily uses it, with V-22 Ospreys and F/A-18 Hornets consistently landing and taking off from it.
The reason that it’s considered dangerous is because of its location. MCAS Futenma is hazardous because of the high density of the housing surrounding it. If there is an emergency at the airport, it will be extremely difficult to evacuate the area in a sufficient amount of time.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, Colorado
Any worthy candidate for the most dangerous airport in the world is bound to require some sort of special training for its pilots. According to the Telegraph, Aspen/Pitkin County Airport fulfills the criteria due to its runway, which is surrounded by mountains.
That’s not all though. It also has a very steep approach that is a nightmare to land on. It also means that pilots have to land from either side of the same runway (obviously not at the same time).
The Ice Runway, Antarctica
When you’re trying to take off on a runway that is completed made of four inches-worth of snow, you know you’ve got problems. A stone’s throw away from Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, this “airport” is the only way that pilots can take off from and land on the entire continent.
What makes the runway particularly dangerous is the fact that it is dark for 24 hours of the day during the winter. Planes also need to be light enough not to crack the ice.
Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten
Nobody wants to worry about planes flying precariously close to their heads while having fun at the beach. Alas, this is what beachgoers have to deal with whenever they go to St. Maarten’s Princess Julia International Airport.
While Instagrammers might be foaming at the mouth, it’s not that pleasant to have sand blow in your face every time a plane lands here. Planes land so low because they have to fly over the water at a low altitude.
Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar
With the rock of Gibraltar in its backdrop, there is no denying that this international airport is in a beautiful location. Moreover, with a 5,500-foot runway, pilots should not have too much trouble landing here, in theory.
However, due to the fact that one of the country’s main streets goes directly through the runway, frustrated drivers have to stop whenever a plane is landing. They have to wait for the street to reopen every single time.
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Antilles
Believed to have one of the shortest commercial runways in the world, Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport has provided plenty of problems for pilots and bystanders alike over the years.
Located on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba, Juancho’s runway actually ends on a cliff, giving even the best-trained pilots a daunting task if they aren’t able to take off properly. Many tourists are advised to take a ferry from neighboring islands if they wish to visit.
Cliffs Used for Air Strips
It’s not just legal airports that are used for planes to take off from and land on. Some death-defying pilots might see the potential in a cliff edge that is deemed long enough for a sufficient lift off.
In Papua New Guinea, there is a disturbingly large number of airstrips that are located in many of the mountains. Take the Megum airstrip, for example, which is just one of many dotted around Papua’s mountainous region. We recommend using an actual airport.
Paro Airport, Bhutan
Another airport that is surrounded by huge mountains, Paro Airport only permits arrivals/departures during daylight hours and for a good reason! When pilots are landing at this Himalayan location, they are forced to maneuver a quick 45-degrees due to the tight space between the mountains.
There are also plenty of mountaintop homes that are dangerously close to planes passing by. Not to mention the fact that only 17 pilots are actually authorized to land or take off here.
Matekane Air Strip, Lesotho
Although Lesotho is a small country, that still doesn’t stop people from getting from place to place by air. Just 30 miles away from the capital city of Maseru there is the Matekane Air Strip.
Deep in the Lesothan countryside, this strip is often used by those who are determined to reach villages nearby for emergency reasons. These include doctors and charity workers. However, it is also incredibly dangerous, with a 2,000-foot drop at the cliff edge. Windy conditions can also get in the way.
Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland
Surrounded by a plethora of fjords, Narsarsuaq is another example of an airport that is absolutely covered in ice. While it might not be dark 24 hours a day during the winter like Antarctica, there are still severe weather conditions that threaten planes from taking off and landing safely.
Turbulence is often likely due to the constant storms. If that wasn’t enough, also consider the fact that an active volcano erupts every once in a while, often sending ash into planes’ engines.
Madeira Airport, Portugal
While flying to Portugal’s Madeira island may seem as solely a romantic getaway, there is nothing romantic about landing at its airport. For some strange reason, engineers decided to build a platform next to a series of steep cliffs and right next to the Atlantic ocean.
There is a small number of pilots who are actually licensed to fly to this airport. Other things they need to take into consideration are the mountains and water on either side of the runway.
Telluride Regional Airport, Colorado
At a staggering 9,070 feet, Telluride Regional Airport is the highest commercial airport in the United States of America. However, with great height comes great danger, and it seems like wherever you land on its runways, you have a chance of falling to your doom.
At each end of the runway, there are unprotected cliffs with 1,000-foot drops. Not to mention the fact that there is plenty of turbulence and strong mountain winds during the winter season.
Midway International Airport, Chicago
When you think of Chicago airports, O’Hare, comes to mind – but it’s sister airport, Midway, may take the cake when it comes to scary airports. Although the airport isn’t quite as busy as O’Hare, the runways at Midway are almost 2,000 feet shorter than those at newer airports, causing many pilots to overshoot takeoff and landing.
In 2005, a Boeing 737 dove through an airport fence and crashed in the middle of a major highway after skidding off the runway. The crash killed a young boy and injured many.
Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport, Sitka, Alaska
Rocky is a little more than a name when it comes to this airport – things can get a little uneasy at this airport. It’s surrounded completley by water, and the weather can get a little hectic. Pilots have to keep an eye out for boulders and debris that often make their way onto the island’s only runway.
As if the crazy weather isn’t enough – there are large flocks of birds that live close to the airport and are frequently spotted in the skies.
Yeager Airport, Charleston, West Virginia
Apart from having a very short runway, the most exciting thing about this airport is that it sits on top of a flattened mountain. The runway is situated between two cliffs, so the perfect takeoff is crucial. In January 2010, a pilot overran the runway following a takeoff that didn’t go as planned.
The Engineered Materials Arrestor System luckily stopped the plane at the end of the runway before it plummeted over a cliff, no one was hurt, but the incident caused significant damage to the plane.
San Diego International Airport, San Diego
According to the official airfare website, the San Diego International Airport is considered one of the most dangerous. The airport, formerly known as Lindbergh Field, covers 663 acres of land. It is located in the city’s downtown is surrounded by mountains from the north and east, Mexican airspace to the south.
Strong tailwinds blow in from the west that pilots need to pay extra attention to. All of these circumstances together sometimes force nose-to-nose takeoffs and landings.
LaGuardia Airport, New York
Considering this may be the most famous airport on this list, it may also be the most surprising one. Even though the views of the Empire State Building and the city are breathtaking during takeoff and landing, LaGuardia sits a little to close to the Manhattan skyline.
It is one of three airports in the United States’ largest airport system, so the skies surrounding it are always packed with jets. During landing, pilots are forced to make many tight, low altitude turns.
Catalina Airport, Avalon, California
California airports seem to be the stars of this list – which comes to us as somewhat of a surprise. If you’re flying into this California airport, you’re in for a bumpy landing. Catalina Airport, which has been dubbed the Airport in the Sky, has an altitude of 1,602 feet and is known for having downdrafts and turbulence while approaching.
The runway drops off so much on both sides that pilots on both ends cannot see the planes coming towards them.
Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C.
To fly into this difficult airport, you have to be especially skilled. The national airport sits between two overlapping no-fly zones, so pilots have to keep an eye out for the Pentagon and CIA headquarters. In addition to this, during takeoff, pilots must ascend quickly and take a sharp left turn, so they don’t fly over the White House.
Although these strict rules have been around for years, following the attacks of September 11, security forces strongly enforce these rules.
Kansai International Airport, Japan
Kansai International Airport is an airport located on a human-made island in the middle of Osaka Bay off the Honshu shore. The International airport is large enough to be seen from space, and it faces earthquakes, cyclones, and an unstable seabed.
In 2016, 25.2 million passengers used the airport, making it the 30th busiest airport in Asia. In September 2018, the airport was hit by Typhoon Jebi, it had to pause operations after seawater hit the runways, and the waters reached the engines of some planes.
Princess Juliana Airport, St Martin
The airport has one runway and arriving aircraft that approach the island fly low over the famous Maho Beach. The proximity of the beach to the runway has made the airport one of the world’s most dangerous airports. Despite the dangers, the airport has become a favorite place for planespotters.
In 2017, a New Zealand woman died from injuries she received by a jet blast from a departing aircraft, and tourists have often been criticized for their reckless behavior on the beach.
John Wayne Airport, Santa Ana, California
You would have never guessed to think that one of the most dangerous airports in the United States is located in peaceful Orange County, but it is! A unique takeoff is needed at this airport. Due to strict noise restrictions, pilots must take off at maximum throttle and then quickly pull back on their engines.
If you ask anyone thats flown out of this airport, they will tell you that taking off can be compared to a ballistic missile or a space shuttle liftoff.