World’s scariest airport runways

For some people, flying can be a scary experience, but once you’re in the air or back on the ground that apprehension quickly dissipates. These airport runways certainly won’t help your fear of flying, but they will certainly give your holiday an adrenalin kick. These are without a doubt some of the scariest airport runways in the world, but they’re also some of the most unusual and most beautiful.


1. Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten, Caribbean
Maho Beach has to be one of the world’s scariest spots to get a suntan. The landing strip of Princess Juliana International Airport is so short that planes have to approach at around 10–20m above the heads the valiant sunbathers by the seashore. So close, some say, that you can shake hands with the pilot.


2. Courchevel Airport, France
Hidden at an altitude of over 2000 m high in the French Alps, the runway at Courchevel Airport is just over 500m long. With a steep incline that slows planes down on landing and speeds them up on take-off, it’s one of the most dangerous in the world. Just ask 007, as this is the runway seen in the film Tomorrow Never Dies.


3. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal
Sitting 2743m high in the snowy Himalayas, Tenzing-Hillary Airport is the gateway to Mount Everest. Its very short runway slopes up the side of a mountain, and the surrounding terrain gives pilots only one shot at landing. And once a plane has commenced take-off, there’s no turning back either. If they aren’t in the air before they run off the end of the cliff, they just have to hope there’s enough power in the engine to get them airborne.


4. Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport, Alaska
Alaska’s Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport is located on the small island of Japonski, and its solitary runway is pretty much surrounded by water. Unfavourable weather can make it difficult for pilots to land, as they may have to dodge boulder, rocks and other debris caused by strong winds and flooding.

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5. Gustaf III Airport, St. Barthélemy, Caribbean
Gustaf III Airport is another Caribbean airport with similar properties to Princess Juliana International Airport, only instead of bathers at the landing point, they’re soaking up the rays at the point of take-off. It’s a small airport with short runways and hectic surrounding terrain, so it has what pilots like to say “the three whammies of flying”.


6. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba, Caribbean
Another runway with almost zero margin for pilot error, the Juancho E Yrausquin Airport is located amongst tricky terrain, with hills on one side, sheer cliff face on the other and a short runway that drops into the sea. It is pretty though isn’t it?


7. Catalina Airport, California
Catalina Airport is known as the ‘Airport in the Sky’ because it’s basically a landing strip in the hills with sheer cliffs dropping off each side. These cliffs are a cause of major turbulence and downdrafts on approach, so you’re pretty much assured of a rough landing. The runway is also raised in the middle, so pilots can’t see exactly where it ends during landing or take-off. Bad weather also wreaks havoc on the strip, with potholes, soft spots and all sorts of debris a constant worry for pilots and grounds crew.


Queenstown Airport, New Zealand
The photos of Queenstown airport don’t look so scary, but it’s the terrain surrounding it that gives this one a spot on the list. The airport lies below The Remarkables – a craggy, jagged mountain range made famous by The Lord of the Rings films. They cause all sorts of issues for pilots and passengers, such as strong downdrafts and major turbulence. Bird activity, bad weather and poor visibility make Queenstown Airport live up to its mother city’s reputation as the adventure capital of the world.

Have any of you ever landed or taken off at one of these airports? What was your experience? Do you think there are any airports that are scarier than these? Why not share them with our members?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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