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The 10 Craziest Runways in the World

Being a pilot takes skill on a good day, but throw in some crazy approaches, interesting landscapes and some of the world’s shortest runways and you had better hope your pilot has both precision and confidence. While many airports around the world are pretty straightforward, there are a few that challenge even the most experienced of pilots and crew. These 10 runways are known as some of the craziest in the world for all sorts of reasons including last minute banks, short runways and some seriously scary approaches. Here are the 10 craziest runways in the world:

10. JFK Airport -New York City, USA

With so many flights in and out of this busy New York hub every day, most passengers are probably unaware of the challenges of JFK’s runway 13L, but it’s a challenging situation that puts pressure on pilots. Not only is the runway surrounded on 3 sides by Jamaica Bay and wet marshlands, but the circular approach forces pilots to deal with a 1,500 ft ceiling and 5 mile visibility, while also avoiding interference with the air traffic from nearby Newark and LaGuardia airports.

9. Princess Juliana Airport -St. Maarten

They say a picture says a thousand words and in the case of St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana Airport, any picture of a plane landing here speaks volumes to the white knuckle approach. This airport sits on the Dutch half of the popular Caribbean vacation island and was actually a former military airstrip. What makes this airport unique is the incredibly low approach that takes planes directly over the popular Maho Beach, with the edge of the runway just across the road.

8. Barra Airport -Scotland

Barra Airport lies in the bay of Traigh Mhòr on the northern tip of Scotland’s island of Barra. Not only does it have a short runway making it somewhat dangerous, but it’s the only airport in the world where scheduled flights use a beach as the runway. In fact, Barra Airport has 3 runways on the beach laid out in a triangular format. They’re all marked by permanent wooden posts because at high tide the runways are submerged underwater, meaning flights at this Scottish airport are scheduled based on the tides.

7. Gibraltar International Airport -Gibraltar

There are a few factors that make the International Airport of Gibraltar an interesting and somewhat nerve-wracking experience for pilots. First of all, the single runway was built right on the sea and stretches across the width of the peninsula. Not only do pilots have to carefully circle around the mountain of Gibraltar before landing, but if they overshoot the runway at all, the sea awaits. The other hazardous factor is that the only way into the city of Gibraltar is straight across the airports runway and the road is closed by railway-type crossings when a plane is landing or taking off.

Gibraltar International Airport

6. Courchevel Airport -French Alps

Courchevel Altiport is a small airport servicing the Courchevel Ski Resort in the French Alps. Oblivious vacationers may not be aware of the challenges of this airport but you can bet that the pilots that fly here know all too well. At only 537 meters, the super short runway is only suitable for helicopters and  small fixed wing planes and it also has a very tricky 18.6% up-slope. Not only is the short runway a danger factor but the surrounding terrain is treacherous with close by ski runs and jagged mountains. The last (and maybe most scary) factor is that this airport has no instrument approach procedure or lighting aids on the runway making landing in fog or snowy conditions extremely dangerous.

5. Ibrahim Nasir International Airport -Maldives

Also known as Malé International Airport, this is the main international airport of the Maldives and is located on Hulhulé Island. The airport has only 1 runway which sits a mere 2 meters above sea level and spans the entire length of Hulhulé Island. This means one wrong move or error during takeoff or landing could send aircraft careening into the ocean on either side.

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport

4. Gustaf III Airport -St. Barts

If you’ve ever been to the popular Caribbean vacation island of St. Barts, you may have flown from Gustaf III Airport and not even realized it’s unique dangers. Like St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana Airport, Gustaf III (also known as Saint Barthélemy Airport) also lies incredibly close to a popular public beach. But in this case, it’s the takeoff that sees departing planes from the short runway soar right over the heads of vacationing sunbathers on the beach of the Baie de St Jean.

Gustaf III Airport

3. Telluride Regional Airport -Colorado, USA

Telluride Airport is another single runway airport with an approach that’s both stunningly beautiful and completely nerve-wracking all at once. This Colorado airstrip brings skiers to high altitudes and services the many ski destinations in the area. Pilots are challenged by the fact that the single runway lies on a plateau with a dip in the middle and hazardous terrain all around it. The plateau sits amidst high terrain exceeding 14,000 feet with a 300 meter drop off the plateau to the San Miguel River below.

2. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport -Saba, Caribbean

Of all the short runways in the world, the sole airstrip at Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport is considered the shortest commercial runway in the world at only 396 meters. This means only very small airplanes and helicopters can reach the airport which is the only one on the Caribbean island of Saba. The runway essentially touches the edges of the peninsula on which it sits with cliff drops into the Caribbean Sea on 3 sides and hazardous hills on the 4th.

1. Tenzing-Hillary Airport -Lukla, Nepal

Also known as Lukla Airport, Tenzing-Hillary lies amidst the mountains of Eastern Nepal and provides flights for those adventurous travelers heading to hike in Kathmandu. Lukla is also the most popular starting point for the climb to Mount Everest. Tenzing-Hillary is surrounded by flight challenges; the runway is 527 meters long making it suitable for only helicopters and small fixed wing planes. At the north end of the runway there’s high elevations, while to the south, lies a steep drop off of nearly 600 meters, meaning there’s no second chances at this airport.

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