The Most Dangerous Airports

Guest post by Alan Carr: Alan Carr is an avid aviation buff that enjoys writing about various aspects of aviation from the business to the technical. He currently works with globalair.com to provide resources on aircraft related information.

Takeoffs and landings are inherently the most dangerous part of flying. Although rare, the chances of an airplane accident are greatest at these two points in a flight. Add to the mix tall mountains, sloped runways, cliffs, and roads and you have the makings for some of the most dangerous airports in the world.

For the most part, those of us that fly day to day don’t have to contend with anything more frightening than a long flight seated next to a screaming infant. By and large, the major airports of the world are quite safe. But not all of them. Some airports are located in areas that make takeoffs and landings stressful endeavors even for the most experienced pilots.

Princess Juliana International Airport
This airport is located on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. You are probably familiar with the pictures of large airliners flying a mere 30 to 60 feet above sunbathers “relaxing” on the beach. No, those photos are not fake. The reason these lumbering giants glide in so low is because the runway, the second busiest in the eastern Caribbean, is only 7,152 feet long. This makes it barely long enough for heavy jets to land on. Despite these regular close calls, there have been no major incidents at the airport.

Madeira Airport
This airport is located near Funchal, Madeira which is off the coast of Morocco. This airport was once known for its extremely short runway, which, in combination with high mountains and the ocean, made for difficult landings and takeoffs. After a series of incidents, this airport was extended and widened. However, to do so meant building it out over the ocean and employing the use of columns to build it on, about 180 of them. Each column stands over 200 feet tall. Its size is plenty big to handle larger aircraft safely, as long as they don’t drift off the tarmac.

Image Credit Wikimedia Commons

Gibraltar Airport
Unlike most dangerous airports which have some combination of environmental features to contend with, Gibraltar Airport has a different obstacle that makes it dangerous – Main Street. The History Channel program ranked this airport as the most dangerous in Europe. Every time a plane lands or takes off the busy road bisecting the runway must be closed. This airport not only has commercial traffic but also military traffic from the Royal Air Force which still uses it as a base.

Gibraltar Airport

Image credit Wikimedia Commons

Toncontin International Airport
When you are on approach to land in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, you are about to experience one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Built in 1934, the airport was designed to handle airplanes that didn’t require lengthy runways. The runway is just over 7,000 feet long and is located in a valley surrounded by mountains. In addition to the short runway, the mountains surrounding the airport only allow for one way in and one way out. Even so, large 757’s land here on a daily basis.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Courchevel Airport
Before you enjoy the thrill of skiing down a steep mountain face in the French Alps, you may get to experience the adrenaline rush of landing at this airport located in the city of Courchevel, France. Courchevel may be one of the most famous ski resorts in Europe, but its airport is world renown for being dangerous. Located on a steep grade, the only flat part of this runway is at the top where planes are parked. Wonder what landing here is like? Just watch the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies to find out.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Gustaf III Airport
Another small airport with a bad reputation is located on the island of Saint Brthelemy in the Caribbean. This airport combines a narrow approach with a busy road at one end and a drop off into the ocean at the other. If the approach is not perfect, passengers and motorists alike may suffer. Arriving airplanes fly an extremely steep approach over traffic and depart right over the heads of sunbathers on the beach.

These airports make up a sample of some of the most dangerous airports in the world. But there are plenty more. Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Nepal and Barra Airport on the Scottish island of Barra are two other notorious airports.