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The Most Dangerous Airport Runways in the World

Travelling to a new country, in a remote area of the world, is akin to taking on an adventure. Most of the time, you might not know what to expect when you arrive at your destination. And for some airports in the world, they are tailored to those out there who love adventure and a surprise in their travels. When you think about a plane landing on a runway, it doesn’t scream out ‘exciting.’ However, this list of airports represents the most exciting landing sites in the world that passengers can travel through whilst visiting the countries (or continent) in question.

Image courtesy of Ilker Ender

1. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba, Caribbean

Why it’s dangerous: Billed as one of the world's shortest runways at just under 400 metres long, it has been described by pilots as if they were landing on an aircraft carrier instead of a runaway. Aircrafts approach by having to fly headfirst towards a moss covered cliff, before making a quick bank to the left just before landing. The runway is located high up, sort of on a ledge above the surrounding ocean, with abrupt drops on three sides. In addition, the windy, mountainous terrain makes for a hard-to-accomplish landing.

2. Paro, Bhutan

Why it’s dangerous: Paro is one of the most challenging airports to land on in the world. With the landing strip surrounded by the monolithic peaks of the Himalayas, only eight pilots had the certified skill to land there in 2012. As Paro is located in a deep valley, landing requires incredible technical skills. When approaching the runway, the pilot needs to first negotiate numerous mountains, then rapidly descend to the ground and then pull off a steep bank to the left immediately before arriving and landing on the tarmac.

3. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal

Why it’s dangerous: There is no room for pilot error on either approach or take-off at this airport, which also resides near to the Himalayas. Due to the high altitude nature of the newly named airport (it is named in honour of the first men to have climbed Mount Everest) the approach requires the pilot to navigate a tight route through the mighty mountain range. Once this has been overcome, to avoid crashing into the mountainous wall of rock that is situated at the end of the runway, on touchdown the propellers must be thrust into reverse.

Take-off is just as nerve wracking, if not worse. When an aircraft makes its way down the sloping runway, it must build enough speed in order to lift off into the sky instead of dropping hundreds of metres off a steep ledge. Talk about a nightmare!

4. Sea Ice Runway, Antarctica

Why it’s dangerous: Located on the desolate continent of the south, the 2.5 mile long landing strip is carved into the sea ice near to Ross Island. The runway is often fully operational for most of the Antarctic summer, but pilots have to avoid a heavy landing to ensure the 10 inches of ice does not break. This also means that stationary aircraft needs to be monitored closely, in case there are any signs of sinking.

A few years ago, flights had to be cancelled or rerouted because of the warmer weather, which was causing the runway to melt. Either way, 10 inches of ice doesn’t seem thick enough to handle the weight of a plane!

5. Qamdo Bamda Airport, Tibet

Why it’s dangerous: Recently, having its crown as the world's highest airport taken, at 14,000 feet above sea level and almost 3.5 miles long, Qamdo Bamda is a terrifying prospect to land at. The high-altitude nature of the runway makes safe landings at this height tremendously difficult. This is because the reduced amount of air means that the resistance on the plane is reduced, thus making it harder for the pilot to control the plane on landing.

6. Gibraltar Airport (or North Front Airport), Gibraltar

Why it’s dangerous: Now, this airport may have the strangest location in the world. Actually, passengers may feel like they're at a train track crossing instead of an airplane runway when travelling through Gibraltar Airport. The Iberian Peninsula’s only runway crosses a major highway leading into Spain. Insubstantial barriers, that would struggle to stop a moped, block off traffic when an airplane is moving through. The cramped nature also means that there is no room for error; made doubly hard in bad weather. Nevertheless, this does not seem to be the most secure airport in the world and it is known that passengers are often thankful when their flight is diverted to a nearby airport.

By Manny Mahoon

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