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Airports

These Are the Most Dangerous Airports in the World

These Are the Most Dangerous Airports in the World
Mariel Loveland

Welcome to the mile-high club—no, the other mile-high club. The one that leaves us white-knuckled and hyperventilating at the slightest bump of turbulence. When it gets severe? Forget about it! If you haven’t tried to keep your lukewarm, bacteria-filled airplane coffee from spilling while hysterically crying and writing your last will and testament, you haven’t lived.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 2.5% to 6.5% of Americans have a major phobia of flying. It’s one of the most common phobias that exist even though flying is generally safer than traveling in a car. Except is it actually safer? Sometimes, you have to wonder, especially when you’re looking at some of the most dangerous airports in the world.

From blind corners and steep mountain peaks to tiny runways and treacherous weather, these seven airports are some of the most dangerous on the planet. You might want to adjust your travel plans accordingly.

 

Lukla Airport, Nepal

If you’re ever planning to climb the treacherous, terrifying terrain of Mt. Everest, surviving an anxiety-inducing landing at Tenzing–Hillary Airport, known widely as Lukla Airport, is a great place to start. It’s also pretty much unavoidable since it’s the main airport used for anyone visiting the famed mountain (the alternative is a several day’s trek). According to Forbes, it’s the most dangerous airport in the world.

Once you look at the runway, it’s not surprising that Lukla Airport—which is literally carved into the Himalayan Mountains—has a list of incidents that run into double digits. It’s basically a who’s who of treachery. At an altitude of 9,383 feet, the tiny 1,729-foot runway is a point of no return. Once a plane tries to land, it has to land. There’s no go-around procedure, and only small planes and helicopters are allowed to land there.

On top of that, the runway—which is sloped to aide in the slowing-down process—is bookended by a mountain wall and a 2,000-foot drop. If your pilot navigates wrong, you can look forward to either having a head-on collision or plummeting into the valley. Because sudden rainstorms, snowstorms, and fog constantly threatens visibility, pilots have to remain in constant contact with airport controllers. This would probably give nervous flyers a piece of mind if the electricity didn’t regularly go out. Then again, if you’re climbing Everest, you’re probably not a nervous flyer.

Toncontin Airport, Honduras

Toncontin Airport is another one that’s dangerous because of its proximity to the mountains. The runway is located in a valley, and in order to land, pilots have to make a sharp, 45-degree turn and rapidly drop their altitude. On top of that, the runway is around 6,600 feet long (while the average commercial runway clocks in at around 8,000 to 13,000 feet) and the area is notorious for frequent gusts of wind and poor weather.

According to News.com.au, the airport has been host to a number of horrific crashes, the most recent of which was in 2018. The most deadly occurred in 1989 and is honestly too grotesque to even recount. Let’s just say that the morgue technician was talking about identifying casualties through dental records, and leave it at that. We can cross Honduras off our list of places to go, now.

 

Paro Airport, Bhutan

Bhutan’s Paro Airport is surrounded by 18,000-foot mountain peaks that make it so treacherous only 17 qualified pilots are authorized to land there. What’s worse is that the pilots can’t even see the short, 6,500-foot runway until right before they have to rapidly drop altitude and land. You can thank the mountains for obstructing their view.

Landing at Paro requires a 45-degree turn through mountain tops. The planes get so close to the cliffside homes that a particular red home is often used as a focal point to guide pilots to the runway. They are, after all, going in virtually going in blind.

 

Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten

Princess Juliana International Airport’s danger comes purely from tourism. The airport, which was originally built for smaller planes, never expanded for the more than 400,000 tourists that visit annually and the massive, commercial jets that carry them.

Most of the commercial jets that land at Princess Juliana need around 8,000 feet of runway, but instead, they’re only working with 7,100. They also have to approach at an extremely low altitude, which makes the planes seem like they’re only a few feet from the tourists sunbathing at Maho public beach. Beach-goers can look forward to occasional gusts of wind and some sand potentially being kicked up into their eyes from the sheer force of so many low-flying flights but does make for a pretty cool Insta photo.

 

Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar

Unlike the mountain airports that graced this list, Gibraltar International Airport makes for fairly smooth landings. Sure, pilots have to immediately step on the brakes to avoid plunging into the ocean at the end of the 5,500-foot landing strip, but that’s not really a huge ask. Instead, the danger comes from the fact that the runway intersects with the city’s main street, which closes every time a plane needs to land. It’s hard not to shudder at the thought of all that traffic.

Gisborne Airport, New Zealand

Gisborne Airport on the eastern edge of New Zealand’s North Island is an accident waiting to happen. The timing must be absolutely perfect to land and requires careful coordination with the national railway. Why? The train tracks intersect with all four of Gisborne’s runways, three of which are made of grass. Thankfully, the national rail doesn’t run like the New York’s subway system or there’d probably be some casualties.

 

Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland

Narsarsuaq Airport is smack dab in the middle of Greenland’s gorgeous Fjords, but the strong winds and short, 6,000-foot runway make it pretty dangerous. There’s also the chance that the nearby volcano will erupt, and pilots can’t exactly see in a cloud of blinding ash. Maybe check the seismic report before you stop by.

View Comments (12)

12 Comments

  1. edgewood49

    September 19, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    So what has changed ? Old list

  2. cageordie

    September 20, 2019 at 4:58 am

    Gibraltar and St Maarten aren’t ‘dangerous’. They are interesting, but that’s about all. Having a road across the runway, which is tightly controlled, or tourists watching from the end, does not make a runway dangerous. What about Courcheval? Like Lukla you land uphill on the runway or hit a mountain. Then there’s Saba which operates daily scheduled services despite being permanently closed and having only 1,300 feet of runway with a cliff at each end. Even Lukla isn’t closed to random traffic, though you’d be a fool to try to land your Cessna there.

  3. asterion

    September 20, 2019 at 5:01 am

    Re Gibraltar. It’s not the city’s Main Street (not even High Street). The airport was built in the isthmus connecting the peninsula to the Spanish mainland, technically not even part of Gibraltar as it was part of the neutral zone between Gibraltar and Spain.

  4. JoeyJetson

    September 20, 2019 at 6:00 am

    The last thing in the write up of Toncontin Airport, Honduras says: “We can cross Honduras off our list of places to go, now.”. Toncontin Airport is not the only airport in the country, why cross the whole country off your list Ms Loveland?

  5. crwander

    September 20, 2019 at 6:28 am

    I cringe every time I see an article like this that dramatizes the airports it mentions. None of the airports mentioned are dangerous, with the arguable exception of Lukla. They can be made dangerous by an incompetent pilot or an inappropriate choice of aircraft, but the airports themselves are perfectly fine. The situation is over-dramatized. As a professional pilot, I’ve flown into all of them except Gisborne (Paro as a passenger only).

    Lukla is unusual in that there is little to no go-around opportunity after a certain point, which is a risk. The aircraft that fly into Lukla are easily capable of handling the task of landing and taking off there.

    The short runways mentioned at several of these airports are not a problem, either. The airlines simply fly aircraft into these airports which are appropriate to the available runway length. Aircraft like the 757 and 737-700 are popular choices for short runways, especially those at higher altitudes.

    Toncontin and Paro require specific procedures to follow the terrain to the airport. It’s no big deal for an appropriate aircraft, flown by a pilot with the proper training. I have flown a 757 into Toncontin on several occasions.

    Princess Juliana is a relatively normal airport, although some terrain is a factor on the east end of the runway. The west (beach) end is fine, and airplanes approach normally. The only issue is that the local laws allow the public very close to the runway. No problem for the airplane… dangerous to careless or ignorant sunbathers and sightseers.

    Gibraltar and Gisborne have roads/railroads that cross the runway. They have procedures for that. No big deal.

    Narsarsuaq is fine, too. Sure, it can get windy. It can get windy at a lot of airports.

  6. BC Shelby

    September 20, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    …I always considered Chicago Midway to be a dangerous airport simply because of its compactness, short runways, and the fact it is now surrounded by residential neighbourhoods that expanded over the years. It also shares control airspace with the much larger (and busier) O’Hare. While there hasn’t been a recent accident there, combining all the above “features” with midwest weather that can change in minutes, it can be a recipe for disaster.

  7. SamirD

    September 20, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    Shoot, Midway is dangerous because if you land at night and don’t know you’re way around out of there, you’re in real danger, lol.

    Good to hear from someone that flies that the list here is overdramatized.

  8. UAPremierExec

    September 21, 2019 at 10:36 pm

    And no mention of St. Barths, where the planes land between two large hills, passing a roundabout maybe 10 feet over the roadway (and nearly hitting trucks), then nosing down the plane to land on a VERY short runway? At least at St. Maarten, you can land straight in and see the runway 30 miles out. St. Barths, you aim for the wind sock by the roundabout and can see the runway only once you are maybe a mile or two out (because the high land blocks the view).

  9. chaseUA

    September 22, 2019 at 12:00 am

    Here in Kabul, the airport received some rocket fire the other day. And of course, in the past few years, the entrance to the airport has been targeted with suicide bombers a half-dozen times. While people often say that the “corkscrew” take-offs or landings are needed because of security, it’s actually because the city is surrounded by high peaks.

  10. donyagf

    September 22, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    Sun Valley, Idaho airport is another bad one with the runway right between two mountains.

  11. Cymbo

    September 22, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    I’m totally surprised that someone would mention Gisborne, NZ and not Rongatai airport (Wellington) which is by far the most dangerous airport in the country!

  12. c1ue

    October 9, 2019 at 4:32 am

    I thought the St. Maarten airport was seriously damaged by a hurricane. As is the island, overall.

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