With this list of the most dangerous airports in the world, the idea of an adventure begins at the airport itself. From iced runways to table-top landing at one of these most dangerous airports will have you saying more prayers than when on a roller coaster!
1. Lukla Airport, Nepal
Tenzing–Hillary Airport, also known as Lukla Airport, is a domestic airport and altiport in the town of Lukla, in Khumbu Pasanglhamu, Solukhumbu District, Province No. 1 of Nepal. The airport is surrounded on all sides by steep, mountainous terrain. The short runway is perched on little more than a mountain shelf. At one end there’s a wall and at the other a steep drop into the valley below. At these altitudes, air density is considerably lower than at sea level and that has a detrimental impact on the amount of power generated by the aircraft engines, reducing lift. Reduced air resistance also makes it more challenging to slow the plane down. At high altitudes, the longer the runway, the better. Unfortunately for pilots landing at Lukla, the airport runway is extremely short at just 1,729 feet long. Runways at many of the world’s international airports are more than 10,000 feet long. So short is Lukla’s runway that it slopes uphill with a gradient of almost 12% to assist planes in slowing down in time.
2. Toncontin Airport / Honduras
Toncontín International Airport, also called Teniente Coronel Hernán Acosta Mejía Airport, is located in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. The airport is located about 6km from the city centre in south Tegucigalpa. It was built in 1921 and serves both civil and military operations. It is one of the oldest continuously operational airports in Central America. The Toncontín airport has a single asphalt runway (02/20) which is 2,163m (7,096ft) long. The airport was built at an elevation of 1,005m (3,294ft). Surrounded by mountains and residential neighbourhoods, pilots must execute a dramatic 45 degree turn after negotiating the mountainous terrain just minutes prior to touching down in the bowl-shaped valley. They’re then faced with an unusually steep approach to the airport, which forces them to use more of the strip on landings and take-offs than they would at sea level.
3. Paro Airport / Bhutan
Paro International Airport is the sole international airport of the four airports in Bhutan. It is 6 km from Paro in a deep valley on the bank of the river Paro Chhu. Very few pilots are certified to land at Bhutan’s Paro International Airport, and not without reason. Firstly, there is no radar to guide planes into the airport. The pilot needs to fly entirely on manual mode, according to procedures for landing that have been designed by experienced pilots and aircraft manufacturers. These specify at which speed and altitude the aircraft needs to be at specific visual landmark check-points as the pilots make their approach. For these reasons, flights are only allowed during daylight and under good visibility, and can often be diverted due to clouds. As if being able to check the visual landmarks and the runway wasn’t enough, the pilot also needs to watch out for electrical poles and house roofs on the hillside as they maneuver between the mountains at a 45-degree angle before dropping quickly onto the runway. Most airports have at least 10 nautical miles of distance for pilots to gauge an aligned approach onto the landing strip. Paro’s airport offers only one to two. However, it allows take-offs and approaches in both directions, as opposed to another recurring “world’s most dangerous” features.
4. Saba Airport / Dutch Caribbean
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport is an airport on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba. It is widely acknowledged as the smallest airport in the world, with a very short runway. Just six times the size of a Boeing 777 and wrapped precariously along the edge of a beach is the world’s smallest runway for commercial aircrafts. Landing a plane is no easy feat, let alone trying to do it on the world’s shortest runway. This is what the pilots over at Winair have to do, transporting passengers to and from a 400-meter (roughly 1,300 feet) runway on the tiny Caribbean island of Saba. Built along the rocky terrain of the island, the narrow runway sits in between cliffs on one end, and the blue waters of Cove Bay on the other, making for a nail-biting landing and takeoff experience. Tourism board representatives state that pilots can even land on the runway from both sides depending on the wind conditions of each day, swinging the plane as far as 180 degrees when they reach the end of the runway to prepare for their liftoff.
5. Wellington International Airport / New Zealand
Wellington Airport is an international airport located in the suburb of Rongotai in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. It lies 3 NM or 5.5 km south-east from the city centre. It is a hub for Air New Zealand and its subsidiaries. The airport has a single runway of 1,936m (5,350ft) and as this is short has been rather limited in the past for the international destinations it can serve (the short runway precludes the Boeing 747 landing but the Boeing 747 SP may land). The runway was originally extended from 1,630m in the 1970s to handle DC-8s but now needs extending again. However to do this will require land reclamation into Lyall Bay and breakwater protection from the waters of the Cook Strait and this has been deemed to be too expensive. The new international terminal expansion at Wellington put the airport at the forefront of innovative architecture. The new terminal, affectionately called ‘the Rock’ (NZ$60m, US$47.26m) has been designed as an iconic building for the airport of the capital city. The rock (second phase) forms part of the entire terminal which was constructed in two phases. The phase two terminal building was designed by Studio Pacific Architects of Wellington in association with Warren and Mahoney. The building has a giant round brown pumpkin shape with roof fissures containing coloured glass producing interesting light effects.
6. McMurdo Station, Antarctica
The McMurdo Station is a United States Antarctic research station on the south tip of Ross Island, which is in the New Zealand–claimed Ross Dependency on the shore of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. McMurdo Station, located at 77 degrees 51 minutes S, 166 degrees 40 minutes E, is the largest Antarctic station. McMurdo is built on the bare volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island, the solid ground farthest south that is accessible by ship. The station was established in December 1955. It is the logistics hub of the U.S. Antarctic Program, with a harbor, landing strips on sea ice and shelf ice, and a helicopter pad. Its 85 or so buildings range in size from a small radio shack to large, three-story structures. The mean annual temperature is -18°C (0°F). Temperatures may reach 8°C (46°F) in summer and -50°C (-58°F) in winter. The average wind is 12 knots, but winds have exceeded 100 knots. The two airfields-Phoenix and Williams Field Skiway-are used by different aircraft. Repair facilities, dormitories, administrative buildings, a firehouse, power plant, water distillation plant, wharf, stores, clubs, warehouses, a science support center, and the first-class, 4,320 square-meter crary lab are linked by above-ground water, sewer, telephone, and power lines.