Seeing the world from the clouds and traveling to foreign places is always a magical experience. But like any good meal, there’s always a bill to pay at the end. The most dangerous part of air travel is the landing and departure, sometimes it comes with a treacherous landing. From airports high in the mountains to airports on an island at sea level all of these have their own set of dangers. While airports around the world are meant to serve people visiting those destinations, these airports are in themselves no less than any tourist ‘must-visit’ site. Here I have compiled a list of the Top 10 Most Extreme Airports.
1. Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar
Gibraltar was selected as one of the ‘World’s Scariest Airport Landings and Take-offs’ due to its runway which extends into the sea.
The main road heading towards the land border with Spain intersects the airport runway, and consequently has to be closed every time a plane lands or departs.
This is the only airport where the runway actually intersects the express highway
between Spain and Island. When a plane has to take off or Land, traffic is shut down.
For drivers on this road, safety is not looking around, but looking up!
2. Kansai Airport, Japan
Kansai International Airport (KIX) is one of Japan’s most important international airport. Located on a man made island about 40 km south of central Osaka, The Kansai International Airport (KIA) was built on an artificial island just off the coast of Japan in Osaka Bay in 1994. It is built at a depth of 18 m approximately 5 km offshore. The terminal building is approximately 3.5 km by 1 km. Later on, in 2007, an additional runway was built measuring approximately 4 km by 1 km.
Japan is an extremely high risk hazard area. Building this airport in the middle of the bay makes it particularly prone to earthquakes, tsunamis, and typhoons. Since the island is very close to sea level, large waves are it’s biggest threat. Large enough to be viewed from space, it faces earthquakes, cyclones, and an unstable seabed.
3. Princess Juliana International Airport, Saint Martin
The airport is perhaps best known for very low altitude flyover landing approaches due to one end of its runway being extremely close to the shore and Maho Beach.
Princess Juliana International Airport is the main airport on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, located on the Dutch side of the island in the country of Saint Martin
Swooping in over a packed beach sometimes just 10 metres above the heads of holidaymakers, it’s easy to see why Princess Juliana Airport on the Caribbean island of St Maarten is one of the least loved destinations for pilots.
Despite being the second-busiest airport in the Eastern Caribbean the runway at Princess Juliana is just 7,152 feet – less than half the length of many international airports.
Each plane about to land here appears close enough to touch from the beach-goers’ perspective. In fact, revellers on this island spend their day at Maho beach precisely for this thrilling experience of large airplanes darting towards them from across the sea and then landing just behind them!
4. Madeira Airport, Portugal
With an unusually short runway, rocky hills on either side and a sheer drop into the ocean the airport is recognised by pilots as one of the most difficult to land in Europe, if not the world.
It may be the entry point for one of Europe’s most idyllic holiday destinations, but Madeira Funchal is also known for being one of the “world’s most dangerous airports”. There was no more land to extend the strip, but engineers came up with something unique. A hundred and eighty columns of about 70m (230ft) each were erected — some of them on the ocean itself — and the runway was stretched by 847m. Due to the terrain, it is considered one of the most amazing feats of airport engineering.
If this wasn’t enough, the exposed nature of the airport means landing planes are susceptible to strong winds and turbulence.
It’s pretty easy to see why it’s so dangerous with an elevated (and artificial) runway.
5. Ice Runway, Antartica
A blue ice runway is a runway constructed in Antarctic areas with no net annual snow accumulation, so that the resultant ice surface is capable of supporting aircraft landings using wheels instead of skis.
Because of ice’s low coefficient of friction, planes tend to decelerate with reverse thrust, as opposed to traditional means of braking the wheels.
There was no more land to extend the strip, but engineers came up with something unique. A hundred and eighty columns of about 70m (230ft) each were erected — some of them on the ocean itself — and the runway was stretched by 847m. Due to the terrain, it is considered one of the most amazing feats of airport engineering. The runway is around 65km (40 miles) – or three hours overland – from the Australian Antarctic research station of Casey.
The surface was paved with compressed white snow as the glacial blue ice absorbs heat from the sun and melts to cause uneven pits. The white snow reflects light and heat and provides a better landing surface for aircraft.
The blue ice runway sounds dangerous, but is a crucial lifeline for operations on Antarctica.
So the next time you judge your pilot for making a bumpy landing, just be glad he wasn’t trying to do it on a glacier.
6. Kai tak Airport, Hong Kong
With a perilous runway that jut out into the sea, and a descent through skyscrapers and craggy mountains, Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong was seen as the ultimate test of a pilot’s skills.
The airport- which was shut down in 1998- was the site of botched landings that included planes crashing into the water and pilots aborting landings when conditions were poor.
With numerous skyscrapers and mountains located to the north and its only runway jutting out into Victoria Harbour, landings at the airport were dramatic to experience and technically demanding for pilots..
7. Agatti Airport, Lakshwadeep
Surrounded by nothing but the Indian Ocean, the 4,000-foot-long Agatti Airport is so random and petite that it could pass off as a piece of a larger runway lost at sea. The airport is the only one in Lakshadweep – an Indian Union Territory consisting of 36 exotic islands located off of the southwestern coast of India and sits on the island of Agatti. Because of the danger the short runway presents, there have been proposals to extend it, but in the meantime, flights continue to operate to the island six times a week from the Cochin International Airport in Kerala
“Seriously, that’s an airport?” – That is precisely what you think when the captain announces landing. Looking like nothing more than just a strip of land protruding out of the heavenly blue waters, it is actually the Agatti Airport in Lakshadweep
8. Courchevel Airport, France
Courchevel Altiport is home to an extremely short uphill runway (1722 feet) with a vertical drop at the end. Of course, since the airport is in the French Alps snow, wind and ice reek havoc with anything airborne.
If you do actually get the chance to land here, you will be afforded a rare opportunity to ski or snowboard after you disembark. The airport is considered dangerous, as it features a difficult approach, an upslope runway and ski runs in the adjacent area.
9. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport is the only airport on the Caribbean island of Saba. It is the shortest commercial runway in the world, only 1299 feet long, and flanked on one side by high hills, with cliffs that drop into the seat at both ends. This creates the possibility that an airplane might overshoot the runway during landing or takeoff and end up in the sea or on the cliffs.
Jet aircraft are unable to land at Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, due to the runway length, however small aircrafts and helicopters often used this airport.
So, it needs real skill from pilots to negotiate the cliff and get a smooth touchdown next to the open sea. The take-off, too, is an experience never to be forgotten – a short burst of speed and then a quick vertical climb… and you are left with blue sky above and a blue ocean below..
10. Barra Airport, Scotland
Barra Airport is the only airport in the world where planes land on the beach. BRR is situated in on the wide beach of Traigh Mhor, on Barra island, in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. The airport is literally washed away by the tide once a day, and if you arrive on a late afternoon flight, you may notice a couple of cars in the parking lot with their lights on, which provides pilots some added visibility, since the airport is naturally lit. There is a sign at the beach which reads: Keep off the beach. When the windsock is flying the airport is active. Opened in 1936, this is the only airport in the world that uses a beach as its landing strip!