As awe-inspiring as it once was to invent machines that literally carried us higher into the sky than our ancestors ever thought possible, planes are now a fairly normal part of modern life. Still, for many people, the thought of being miles above the ground, with no hope of survival if something goes seriously wrong, is enough to make them avoid flying altogether.
Though flying is statistically the safest mode of transit—largely due to pilots’ extensive training—it’s still scary to think that your life is in their hands when you’re in a plane. That would be especially true if you were to fly through one of these terrifying and dangerous airports!
1. Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten: If you think it’s scary to fly in a plane, just imagine how terrifying it must be in St. Maarten! Incoming flights have no choice but to fly low because the short runway is so close to the shore.
2. Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar: Because this runway slices through an active highway that people use every day, the road has to be closed off for 10 minutes every time a plane lands!
Here’s another look at it. Even without the plane landings, this road—Winston Churchill Avenue—is one of the busiest streets in all of Gibraltar. It sure seems inefficient for an airport runway, doesn’t it?
3. Barra Airport, Scotland: Located on a sand-covered beach, no other airport in the world requires pilots to work with such a sandy terrain, which creates all sorts of challenges. Yet that’s not even the biggest problem…
Worse yet, each and every one of the flights and landings from Barra Airport have to be scheduled in accordance to the tide and could be completely delayed during particularly high tides!
4. Hechi Jinchengjiang Airport, China: Prior to its 2014 debut, 60 hilltops had to be leveled off with dynamite to make the runway even. Maybe it would’ve been easier not to build an airport 2,200 feet above sea level?
5. Toncontin International Airport, Honduras: This intimidating mountainous terrain, combined with the unusually short runway, makes landing even more difficult than it would otherwise be at this Central American airport.
6. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal: Here’s another short, tricky runway at the bottom of an upward slope (one of the steepest in the world). Only small planes and helicopters are able to land here…
This Nepal airport is also a whopping 9,334 feet above sea level! It’s no wonder that flights may only come in and out during the day when it’s bright outside and visibility is perfectly clear—and even that can change depending on the weather.
7. Madeira Airport, Madeira: Besides being relatively short, this runway has another terrifying feature: it’s held up by pillars and it’s located at the bottom of a slope instead of on a flat surface, making it extra dangerous to navigate. Talk about an uphill battle for pilots…
Not to mention, the Madeira Airport runway is surrounded by water! The airport is prone to bouts of extreme winds, too, so pilots and fliers alike are looking at a number of potentially threatening flight risks.
8. Gustaf III Airport, St. Barth’s: Before descending onto another short runway, these planes have to fly up and over the peaks of mountains! Oh, by the way, this is another runway that ends at the beach…
9. Paro Airport, Bhutan: Paro’s airport—at 7,333 feet—is quite an altitude, but that’s nothing compared to the 16,000-foot peaks of the Himalayas that surround it. Only a select few pilots are qualified to land here.
10. Sea Ice Runway, Antarctica: Easily earning the ominously apt nickname “The Ice,” this runway is not only unpaved, but it is literally covered in ice. Talk about a slippery slope!
11. Mariscal Sucre International Airport, Ecuador: You’d think that soaring above active volcanoes would be terrifying enough, but this 9,350-foot-high airport is also quite steep and surrounded by a crowded metropolis.
12. Courchevel Altiport, France: This short, 1,788-foot runway, which services the French Alps, is also notoriously steep; it has an 18.5 percent gradient. Be careful, or you’ll find yourself falling headfirst into the sheer rock face…
13. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba Island: Pilots have to be extremely precise with this Caribbean airport’s teeny 1,300 foot runway. One wrong move could send them straight into the Atlantic Ocean!
14. Narsaruaq Airport, Greenland: Landings and takeoffs are only permitted during the day here because the surrounding fjords make wind and turbulence a nightmare. That’s not even including the 90-degree turn pilots need to make to get in line with the runway.
15. Matekane Air Strip, Lesotho: You know how young birds learn to fly by being pushed out of their nests? That’s sort of like the experience of taking off on this South African runway; it ends with a 2,000-foot drop off a cliff.
16. Qamdo Bamda Airport, Tibet: At 14,219 feet above sea level, landings are difficult in such thin air. Interestingly, at 3.4 miles long, the runway is also the longest in the world to be open to the public.
These airports could give even the most apprehensive fliers a newfound respect for pilots. It’s not easy!
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