The scariest airport landings in the world



Slide 1 of 31: While flying freely is off the cards at the moment, it doesn't stop us from longing to jet off to somewhere exciting and exotic. However, when the landings are as petrifying as these, you might be relieved you're grounded for the time being. Strap yourselves in for a virtual bumpy ride as we take a look at the world's most scary airport landings.
Slide 2 of 31: As if the towering Alps surrounding the French ski resort of Courchevel weren’t enough of a challenge for pilots, this altiport (meaning a small airfield at a high altitude) has one of the world's shortest runways at 1,761 feet (537m) long. Not much room for error!
Slide 3 of 31: The runway is sloped upwards to a gradient of 18.66% – the highest gradient in the world no less – and, owing to its proximity to the ski resort and passing skiers, it’s probably just as scary being on the ground as in the plane.
Slide 4 of 31: It’s not so much the famous big Rock or the difficult high wind conditions that make flying into (or taking off from) Gibraltar a scary experience, although they don’t help matters...

Slide 5 of 31: The really precarious thing about Gibraltar airport is that a moment too long on the runway and you’ll end up in the sea. That's right, it's surrounded by water at both ends. There's also a main road, which leads to central Gibraltar, crossing the runway. Traffic is stopped by a pair of barriers up to 10 minutes before a landing or take-off.
Slide 6 of 31: The airport on the tiny island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, is the only place in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach. Here are more of the most remarkable tiny airports in the world
Slide 7 of 31: The beach has three runways, which means that planes can almost always land with the wind in the right direction. The whole area is submerged by the sea at high tide so the schedule changes from day to day. While a flight landing here can offer beautiful views, it's also terrifying to think you're reliant on the sea's rise and fall levels.
Slide 8 of 31: It may look pretty but the landing strip at the airport on this little Portuguese archipelago is often at the mercy of incoming weather fronts, which create unpredictable turbulence even on the clearest of days.
Slide 9 of 31: Owing to Madeira’s increasing popularity as a tourist destination, the runway has been extended several times to accommodate larger aircraft. Instead of reclaiming land, though, the runway was built on stilts and partly covers the Atlantic. The fierce crosswinds, combined with its proximity to nearby mountains, sometimes makes for a heart-stopping few hours (yes, plural!) of hovering at 14,000 feet (4,267m) waiting for the extreme conditions to subside.

Slide 10 of 31: Don't be fooled by this stunning view from up high. Not only do pilots have to negotiate the icy mountains in this remote part of the far Northern Hemisphere – landing even involves flying up a fjord – but fog and high winds are common occurrences. Night landings and take-offs are banned completely here.
Slide 11 of 31: Located in a valley at 7,300 feet (2,225m) above sea level and surrounded by lofty peaks reaching 18,000 feet (5,486m) high, planes must take a tight line through a narrow gap in the mountains – in daylight hours only – to reach the runway that's only visible moments before landing. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s only a handful of pilots worldwide who are trained sufficiently to do this. Rather them than us!
Slide 12 of 31: At only 1,312 feet (400m) long, the landing strip at Jauncho E. Yrausquin Airport is the shortest commercial runway in the world. Not only that, but with a steep drop into the sea at both ends, it makes for some nail-biting take-offs and landings.
Slide 13 of 31: However, those that dare board a helicopter or turboprop planes (the only aircraft allowed to land here) from sister isle St. Maarten will be wowed with incredible views of the volcanic island. The flight is only 12 minutes but they will be some of the most memorable of your life. Take a look at the world's coolest airports
Slide 14 of 31: No, you’re not imaging it: that is a train you see chugging across the runway of this little regional airport in New Zealand. In fact, it’s the Palmerston North–Gisborne Line, which crosses straight through Gisborne Airport on the east coast of the North Island, making it the only airport in the Southern Hemisphere with a railway line crossing the main runway.

Slide 15 of 31: This diminutive, craggy Greek island only got an airport with the aid of reclaiming the land from the sea between it and the neighboring island of Lazareta. Obviously such a move has presented a few hair-raising moments not only to passengers but to beachgoers too...
Slide 16 of 31: Planes fly so low over a nearby beach and public road that those sunbathing or in traffic can probably see what the passengers had for their meals. The surreal experience attracts plane spotters from all over the world to congregate. Dubbed 'the St Maarten of Greece', in reference to a very similar scene on the Caribbean island (see later in this gallery), it's even scarier for the passengers looking out of their windows.
Slide 17 of 31: Although the runway itself is built on low-lying land by the sea, it’s incredibly close to the capital city’s suburbs and surrounding mountains. That, coupled with the unpredictable air currents and strong cross winds, means that you can be in for a bumpy ride – and landing.
Slide 18 of 31: This runway is bookended by a steep hillside at the approach end and the deep blue sea at the other. Add to the mix the proximity of local roads and you’ll want to close your eyes as you fly in (if not waving to passers-by on the road, that is).
Slide 19 of 31: This famous, extremely low approach looks too close for comfort for all involved. But the landing strip at St Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport is via the sea and pilots must keep a close eye on their altitude – as well as sunbathers – as the route passes narrowly over Maho beach.
Slide 20 of 31: The beach has become a popular spot from which to watch planes and there are plenty to see and hear. In fact, the deafening noise of the Boeing 737s coming into land, combined with the wind, leaves thrill-seekers in a spin. They line up at the fence to feel the force (not recommended), bringing a whole new meaning to the term plane spotting. Passengers inside the aircraft have their hearts in their mouths, which is understandable.
Slide 21 of 31: Situated in the heart of the Himalayan mountain range, Leh's airport is often regarded as one of the most scenic approaches in the world. It’s also one of the highest at 10,600 feet (3,256m) above sea level, and because of fierce afternoon winds, planes only take off and land in the mornings.
Slide 22 of 31: Forget your comfort teddy to hide behind as you dodge the peaks, though – hand luggage is forbidden. Airport security is incredibly tight up in this region of India and passengers have to comply with much stricter checks than usual. They built these amazing airports then abandoned them! Take a look
Slide 23 of 31: Only one airline flies to this tiny island airport from Kuala Lumpur, and it's a good job, because the runway is a one-way street. Precision is required to make the 90-degree turn, narrowly avoiding a mountain, followed by an immediate reduction in speed in order to avoid the sheer drop at the other end.
Slide 24 of 31: This is the main international airport for the Maldives, located on Hulhule Island in the North Male Atoll. So if you want to dip your toes in the pristine blue waters, you’ll have to stomach the gut-wrenching landing that almost sees the plane take a dip too.
Slide 25 of 31: Terrifying yet beautiful at the same time, passengers are usually more worried about the onward journeys to resorts made by seaplane. The tiny aircraft can safely carry a maximum of 15 passengers but it's the taking off and landing on water that freaks most people out. Take a look at how air travel has changed over the decades
Slide 26 of 31: En route to Queenstown, planes have to negotiate the craggy mountain region and the frequent high winds plus sideways rain. Thankfully special procedures have been introduced to ensure safe operations, which is lucky now that night-time flights have been introduced.
Slide 27 of 31: While the descent is stunning, landing here can literally take your breath away as the tips of the plane wings appear to touch the side of the snow-capped mountains above the edge of Lake Wakatipu. If the plane overshoots the runway, it could end up in the fjords. From HEL to CIA: hilarious real airport codes
Slide 28 of 31: Surrounded by the icy wilderness of the Svalbard archipelago, this airport is the northernmost commercial airport in the world, and what makes it scary? The fact it's built on permafrost (it's insulated though). There are no runway lights either, so only flights during the daytime are permitted – which is fine until you realize that in the winter months, the sun doesn't really rise here.
Slide 29 of 31: Not only is this São Paulo airport a scary spot to land, but it's also dangerous. Famed for its risky runways that are often accused of being the slipperiest in the world due to its lack of drainage grooves, leading to standing water, the airport is located in a dense built-up area of the city meaning planes have to negotiate a way of avoiding the high rise buildings. Passengers feel like their plane is scraping the top of the skyscrapers as they come down to land.
Slide 30 of 31: If you’re planning on visiting Everest Base Camp, the chances are you’ll need to go via this mountain landing strip. The approach through the snowy peaks is a challenge for only the most experienced pilots and landing requires precision accuracy so as not to slam into the high mountain at the end of the runway. There are no second chances here...
Slide 31 of 31: Needless to say, it's not a journey for the faint-hearted, with a mountain at one end of the runway and a 1,000-foot (304m) sheer drop at the other. Taking off isn’t any less hairy: the runway is only 1,729 feet (527m) long. Sometimes, this unique airport has to close briefly during the morning due to strong southwest winds which whip around the area. Now take a look at the world's best airports you've never heard of

White knuckle rides

Courchevel Altiport, France

Courchevel Alitport, France

The runway is sloped upwards to a gradient of 18.66% – the highest gradient in the world no less – and, owing to its proximity to the ski resort and passing skiers, it’s probably just as scary being on the ground as in the plane.

Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar

Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar

Barra Airport, Isle of Barra, Scotland

The airport on the tiny island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, is the only place in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach.

Here are more of the most remarkable tiny airports in the world

Barra Airport, Isle of Barra, Scotland

Cristiano Ronaldo Airport, Madeira, Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo Airport, Madeira, Portugal

Owing to Madeira’s increasing popularity as a tourist destination, the runway has been extended several times to accommodate larger aircraft. Instead of reclaiming land, though, the runway was built on stilts and partly covers the Atlantic. The fierce crosswinds, combined with its proximity to nearby mountains, sometimes makes for a heart-stopping few hours (yes, plural!) of hovering at 14,000 feet (4,267m) waiting for the extreme conditions to subside.

Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland

Paro International Airport, Kingdom of Bhutan

Located in a valley at 7,300 feet (2,225m) above sea level and surrounded by lofty peaks reaching 18,000 feet (5,486m) high, planes must take a tight line through a narrow gap in the mountains – in daylight hours only – to reach the runway that’s only visible moments before landing. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s only a handful of pilots worldwide who are trained sufficiently to do this. Rather them than us!

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba, Caribbean

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba, Caribbean

However, those that dare board a helicopter or turboprop planes (the only aircraft allowed to land here) from sister isle St. Maarten will be wowed with incredible views of the volcanic island. The flight is only 12 minutes but they will be some of the most memorable of your life.

Take a look at the world’s coolest airports

Gisborne Airport, New Zealand

No, you’re not imaging it: that is a train you see chugging across the runway of this little regional airport in New Zealand. In fact, it’s the Palmerston North–Gisborne Line, which crosses straight through Gisborne Airport on the east coast of the North Island, making it the only airport in the Southern Hemisphere with a railway line crossing the main runway.

Skiathos International Airport, Greece

Skiathos International Airport, Greece

Planes fly so low over a nearby beach and public road that those sunbathing or in traffic can probably see what the passengers had for their meals. The surreal experience attracts plane spotters from all over the world to congregate. Dubbed ‘the St Maarten of Greece’, in reference to a very similar scene on the Caribbean island (see later in this gallery), it’s even scarier for the passengers looking out of their windows.

Wellington International Airport, New Zealand

Gustaf III Airport, St Barts, Caribbean

Princess Juliana International Airport, St Maarten, Caribbean

Princess Juliana International Airport, St Maarten, Caribbean

Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh, India

Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh, India

Forget your comfort teddy to hide behind as you dodge the peaks, though – hand luggage is forbidden. Airport security is incredibly tight up in this region of India and passengers have to comply with much stricter checks than usual.

They built these amazing airports then abandoned them! Take a look

Tioman Airport, Malaysia

Velana International Airport, Male, Maldives

Velana International Airport, Male, Maldives

Terrifying yet beautiful at the same time, passengers are usually more worried about the onward journeys to resorts made by seaplane. The tiny aircraft can safely carry a maximum of 15 passengers but it’s the taking off and landing on water that freaks most people out.

Take a look at how air travel has changed over the decades

Queenstown Airport, New Zealand

En route to Queenstown, planes have to negotiate the craggy mountain region and the frequent high winds plus sideways rain. Thankfully special procedures have been introduced to ensure safe operations, which is lucky now that night-time flights have been introduced.

Queenstown Airport, New Zealand

While the descent is stunning, landing here can literally take your breath away as the tips of the plane wings appear to touch the side of the snow-capped mountains above the edge of Lake Wakatipu. If the plane overshoots the runway, it could end up in the fjords.

From HEL to CIA: hilarious real airport codes

Svalbard Airport, Norway

Surrounded by the icy wilderness of the Svalbard archipelago, this airport is the northernmost commercial airport in the world, and what makes it scary? The fact it’s built on permafrost (it’s insulated though). There are no runway lights either, so only flights during the daytime are permitted – which is fine until you realize that in the winter months, the sun doesn’t really rise here.

Congonhas International Airport, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Not only is this São Paulo airport a scary spot to land, but it’s also dangerous. Famed for its risky runways that are often accused of being the slipperiest in the world due to its lack of drainage grooves, leading to standing water, the airport is located in a dense built-up area of the city meaning planes have to negotiate a way of avoiding the high rise buildings. Passengers feel like their plane is scraping the top of the skyscrapers as they come down to land.

Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal

If you’re planning on visiting Everest Base Camp, the chances are you’ll need to go via this mountain landing strip. The approach through the snowy peaks is a challenge for only the most experienced pilots and landing requires precision accuracy so as not to slam into the high mountain at the end of the runway. There are no second chances here…

Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal

Needless to say, it’s not a journey for the faint-hearted, with a mountain at one end of the runway and a 1,000-foot (304m) sheer drop at the other. Taking off isn’t any less hairy: the runway is only 1,729 feet (527m) long. Sometimes, this unique airport has to close briefly during the morning due to strong southwest winds which whip around the area.

Now take a look at the world’s best airports you’ve never heard of

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