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The World's Most Dangerous Airports

Melanie has been interested in cultures, languages, and travel since her youth. She also runs a YouTube channel: The Curious Coder.


Airports serve a significant purpose: to get people and goods from one place to another. Unfortunately, many areas throughout the world don't have the best conditions for an airport.

Engineers work countless hours to create landing strips in places where airports were not thought possible and the marvels of modern engineering have allowed us to build them where they really shouldn't be. The unique locations of these landing strips and airports cause problems when conditions are less than perfect.

These airports often present difficulties because of their geographic location or because of their design, because of these issues, maneuvering planes can be problematic for many of the pilots who fly to these locations. Because of the challenges of taking off and landing, these are considered to be the most dangerous airports in the world.

The runway at Lukla airport has a gradient of 12 percent and when planes take off, they plunge downhill off a 2,000-foot cliff!

The runway at Lukla airport has a gradient of 12 percent and when planes take off, they plunge downhill off a 2,000-foot cliff!

These are the most dangerous airports:

  1. Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten
  2. Congonhas Airport in São Paulo, Brazil
  3. Barra Airport on the Scottish Island of Barra
  4. Gibralter Airport
  5. Gustaf III Airport on the island of St. Barts
  6. Tenzing-Hillary Airport (aka Lukla airport) near Mount Everest
  7. Paro Airport in the Himalayas, Bhutan
  8. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport serving the island of Saba in the Netherland Antilles
  9. Madeira International Airport on the Portuguese island of Madeira
  10. Courchevel Airport at the Courchevel ski resort in France
  11. Ice Runway in Antarctica
  12. Svalbard Airport serving the Svalbard archipelago in Norway
  13. Don Mueang International Airport serving Bangkok, Thailand
A sign posted at Princess Juliana International Airport warning tourists of jet blasts.

A sign posted at Princess Juliana International Airport warning tourists of jet blasts.

1. Princess Juliana International Airport

Princess Juliana International Airport, also called Sint Maarten International Airport, services the Dutch side of the island of Saint Martin (Sint Maarten in Dutch.) This airport is considered dangerous because of its touristy beach location in regards to the low-flying planes. Jet blasts from planes have been known to knock beach-goers into the water as the runway starts just off the beach.

The design of this airport makes Sint Maarten a favorite locale for plane spotters as it is one of the few places left in the world where people can be in such close contact to a plane landing or taking off. However, due to the popularity of plane spotting here, additional fencing was added to the end of the runway to protect tourists who purposefully cling to the fences to be blown into the water by landing aircraft.

Slippery when wet! (Congonhas Airport)

Slippery when wet! (Congonhas Airport)

2. Congonhas Airport

Congonhas Airport (sometimes referred to as São Paulo Airport) serves the city of São Paulo, Brazil. Because of the design of the runway, rainwater proves to be dangerous at this airport. The slippery runways at Congonhas Airport have been the cause of several accidents. To reduce the effects of rainwater, new runways have been put in. There are grooves in the new runways to collect excess water.

The safety concerns at this airport do not end there. Because the area surrounding the airport is highly populated, the airport reduced the number of incoming flights. Another safety precaution put in place was to reduce the maximum weight for aircraft.

The Congonhas Airport is one of three airports that serves São Paulo (and is the 2nd busiest in all of Brazil.) With the new precautions in place, there is a demand for yet another airport to serve the city.

The hard sand beach on the island of Barra makes for the perfect runway

The hard sand beach on the island of Barra makes for the perfect runway

3. Barra Airport

Barra Airport (sometimes called Barra Eoligarry Airport) is located at Traigh Mhòr, a beach on the Scottish island of Barra. This is the only airport in the world that uses a sandy beach as a runway.

There are three runways on this beach, each marked with wooden poles (very sophisticated technology.) While there are three runways, only one is used at any given time. The working runway is chosen based on which direction the wind is blowing. An interesting fact about this "airport" is that during high tide, all three runways are entirely underwater (and unusable.)

While this airport typically isn't used at night, sometimes emergency flights come in and out during the evening. To allow safe passage for these planes, the lights of vehicles are used to mark out the runway.

All traffic on Winston Churchill Avenue must stop when planes are taking off and landing at Gibraltar Airport.

All traffic on Winston Churchill Avenue must stop when planes are taking off and landing at Gibraltar Airport.

4. Gibraltar Airport

The Gibraltar Airport, sometimes called North Front Airport, is considered the most dangerous airport in Europe. Located only 500 meters from the Gibraltar city center, the runway for this airport cuts right through the city. One of the scarier aspects of this airport is that a busy street, Winston Churchill Avenue, intersects the runway. Because of this, when a plane lands or takes off, the road has to be closed.

Gibraltar Airport was originally an emergency airfield for the British Navy. Today, the airport is used to haul cargo to the area and to bring in tourists.

The runway at Tenzing-Hillary Airport

The runway at Tenzing-Hillary Airport

5. Gustaf III Airport

Gustaf III Airport goes by several names: St. Jean Airport, St. Jean, Saint Barthélemy Airport, and even Aérodrome de St Jean. Located in the village of St. Jean on the island of Saint Barthélemy (St. Barts), this airport is considered to be the third most dangerous airport in the world.

The airstrip is at the foot of a slope and ends right on the beach. Planes taking off and fly directly overhead beach-goers. Incoming flights coming from the opposite direction have a steep descent due to the hilltop. The danger presented at this airport is because of the tricky maneuvering pilots must perform when landing.

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6. Tenzing-Hillary Airport

Tenzing-Hillary Airport was originally called Lukla Airport but was renamed to honor the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest: Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. This airport, located in Lukla, Nepal, serves those wishing to climb Mount Everest as well as those wanting to explore the Everest region.

Dangers at this airport include high winds (affecting maneuverability) and cloud cover (affecting visibility), but these aren't the scariest aspects of this airport. Like Gustaf III Airport, one end of the runway is preceded by high terrain, however, instead of a gorgeous sandy beach on the other end, there is a 2000 foot drop! The high winds, cloud cover, steep terrain, and the considerable drop make this the most dangerous airport in the world.

There have been several accidents at this airport, including the most recent which occurred on October 12, 2010. In this accident, a Dornier Do 228 aircraft operated by Sita Air lost control while landing and crashed into the wall-end of the runway. Remarkably, everyone survived!

The island of Saba

The island of Saba

7. Paro Airport

Paro Airport in Bhutan is sandwiched between two 18,000+ foot Himalayan mountains. This airport is one of the most dangerous places to land as planes must be maneuvered between mountains (with, of course, powerful mountain winds) to land on a tiny runway.

Planes are only allowed to land during the day when visibility is at its best. Doesn't sound quite as bad as Lukla, right? Consider this: This airport is so dangerous that only eight pilots in the entire world are qualified enough to land here. That's some scary stuff!

Pilots need to maneuver between mountains, fly within feet of houses, and land on a narrow, 6,500-foot runway. Planes are only allowed to take off and land during the day since any flying at night has been deemed far too dangerous.

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8. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport serves the tiny island of Saba located in the Netherlands Antilles. This airport is unique as both ends of the extremely short runway end with a cliff. Because of the short runway ending with a cliff on either side, any mistakes in taking off or landing can have a disastrous outcome. As this airport is officially closed, those wishing to land at this airport must obtain a waiver to land.

A view of Madeira Airport and its columns

A view of Madeira Airport and its columns

Endangered Airport? Kansai International Airport

Serving the city of Osaka, Japan, Kansai International Airport is located on an artificial island in Osaka Bay. This airport is extremely busy as it is one of the most heavily-used airports in Japan. One problem that threatens this airport is earthquakes, which are common in Japan.

The low elevation of this airport makes it very susceptible to a tsunami should one hit. If that's not enough to scare you out of traveling through this airport, cyclones also put passengers at risk.

Perhaps one of the most significant risks to the airport itself is the rising sea level caused by global warming. While this does not put passengers at risk, the airport may have to be rebuilt on higher ground.

9. Madeira International Airport

Madeira Airport is located near the city of Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira. This airport was initially known for being dangerous because of its short runway (at only 1600 meters in length.)

Shortly after the TAP Portugal Flight 425 accident in 1977 (the deadliest airline accident in Portugal at the time), the runway was scheduled for lengthening. Because the airport was built on the side of a cliff, there was no land on which to extend the runway. To account for this, pillars were used to support the extension.

The difficult task of designing and engineering the new runway was done a Brazilian company known as Andrade Gutierrez. The work done at the Madeira Airport won the company awards including the Outstanding Structures Award given by the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering. However, even after the construction of the runway extension, this airport is known for being one of the most dangerous in the world.

The airplane scene featured before the credits in the film "GoldenEye" was filmed at Courchevel

The airplane scene featured before the credits in the film "GoldenEye" was filmed at Courchevel

10. Courchevel Airport

Courchevel Airport, which serves the popular Courchevel ski resort in France, is known for having many conditions which make it a dangerous airport. This airport is tucked in the French Alps and has a high elevation at over 6500 feet above sea-level. With its complicated approach and an extremely short (only 1722 feet in length) runway that slopes upward, it's no wonder that this airport is ranked as the world's 7th most dangerous airport.

Courchevel Airport in the French Alps - he airplane scene featured before the credits in the film "GoldenEye" was filmed at Courchevel

Courchevel Airport in the French Alps - he airplane scene featured before the credits in the film "GoldenEye" was filmed at Courchevel

11. Ice Runway

Ice Runway is the name of the runway/airport that services the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The Ice Runway is just that: a runway that is constructed annually when the ocean's ice freezes near the McMurdo Station. Because of this, the runway is only usable in the coldest months of the year. Each plane that lands on the runway is measured with a laser to determine how deeply it is sinking into the ice. Once an aircraft sinks ten inches, it must be moved to a safer location on the ice.

A view of the frozen Svalbard Airport

A view of the frozen Svalbard Airport

12. Svalbard Airport, Longyear

Svalbard Airport, Longyear (Svalbard lufthavn, Longyear) serves the archipelago of Svalbard in Norway. The extremely northerly location of Svalbard made it very difficult to construct this airport. Structural work has been done using ice such as the hangar which is frozen into the ground by massive pillars of ice. Because the airport is built on permafrost, if the land thaws, the airport will be rendered useless. However, much engineering has been done to prevent this from happening. For example, the runway is insulated so that the runway stays colder than the ground.

The runway is reasonably safe, but there have been some accidents here including the worst plane accident in Norwegian history. In 1996, a flight bound for this airport crashed into a mountain just under 10 miles from the airport. All 141 passengers were killed in this accident.

13. Don Mueang International Airport

Servicing Bangkok, Thailand, there is nothing particularly special about Don Mueang International Airport except that there is a golf course in between two of the airport's runways.

Despite the reasonably conventional design of the airport, a large number of flights both landing here and originating here have crashed. While there are different reasons for each crash, the fact that many of these flights are tied to this airport is a scary one.

Does this make the airport suspect? Not necessarily. There has to be an airport that has a higher crash-to-successful landing ratio, this airport just happens to be it!

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© 2011 Melanie Palen

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