Some of the most exotic and remote destinations have an unexpected feature that some tourists may or may not want to deal with…scary airstrips! Many of these airports lack paved runways and do not seem nearly long enough to actually land a huge airplane on. Some of these airstrips are built near the beach or on the side of a cliff! These factors contribute to the creation of some of the most death-defying landings you’ll ever experience.
Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten
In St. Maarten, tourists can head to the beach after getting off the plane — literally. Just a small fence separates Princess Juliana International Airport’s Runway 10 from Maho Beach. Due to the short runway length (7,150 feet), planes on their final approach need to fly over the beach at minimal altitude, and pilots have been known to become disoriented regarding their perceived altitude when operating under visual flight rules because the approach to the runway is over water. And it gets even scarier. The departure is even more difficult than the approach, with a turn required to avoid mountains in the departure path. But despite these difficulties, the airport’s safety record is actually impeccable, according to the Daily Mail.
Madeira Airport, Santa Catarina, Santa Cruz
Even the most experienced pilot may have trouble landing on this next runway located in the Portuguese island of Madeira. An international hub, the Maderia Airport, also called the Funchal Airport, was known for its extremely narrow runway, which required pilots to fly toward the mountains then quickly turn and descend in the final approach, according to Travel and Leisure. It wasn’t until 1977 after a Boeing 727 jet overshot the runway on its descent, hydroplaned and crashed, leaving 131 people dead, that the runway was remodeled and made larger, according to the Associated Press.
Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal
Also known as Lukla Airport, Tenzing-Hillary Airport was renamed in 2008 in honor of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The airport is known as the place where most people start the climb to Mount Everest Base Camp, and is also known to be one of the world’s most dangerous airports. Nestled in the heart of the Himalayas, the airport sits at an altitude of 9,000 feet and is subject to high winds, cloud cover and changing visibility. Takeoff is particularly scary. The 1500-foot runway is at a 12 percent incline, and abruptly drops off 2,000 feet to a river valley below.
Juancho E Yrausquin Airport, Saba
Landing at this airport is not for the faint of heart. The airport’s runway is located on a cliff that drops into the Caribbean Sea on three sides and is flanked by high hills on the other. Jet airplanes are not allowed to land at the airport due to its incredibly short runway, which is 1,300-feet long, according to Air Gorilla. The most common planes to land at the Caribbean airport are Twin Otter propeller planes.
Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C.
Pilots flying into Reagan National Airport have to dodge several no-fly zones located over our nation’s capital just to land. Most of central Washington is prohibited airspace up to 18,000 feet so pilots are forced to follow the Potomac River in the “River Visual” approach, according to the FAA. While following the Potomac River pilots have to perform a 30 to 40 degree turn while close to the river to line up with the runway. This maneuver is what has caused some to place the airport on their scariest airports lists.
Saint Barthelemy Airport, St. Barths Island
There is very little room for error when landing at Saint BarthÃ©lemy Airport, located in the luxurious French village of St. Jean in the Caribbean islands. Also known as St. Barth’s Gustaf Airport, only small commercial and charter planes can land on the short 2,100 foot airstrip, according to PrivateFly.com. Planes usually descend extremely close over the heads of beach goers and nearby traffic. However, descending too fast can land your plane straight into the St. Jean’s beach, according to AirfareWatchDog.com.
Courchevel Airport, Courchevel, France
Ski-in/Ski-out? At Courchevel Airport tourists can hit the French Alps immediately after they get off the plane. There are ski runs adjacent to the 6,588 feet-high runway, according to the airport’s website. The airport is considered dangerous due to its upslope runway and the ever-changing weather conditions in the French Alps. If the airport looks familiar it is because it was used in the opening scene of the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies.”
Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
This Hong Kong airport was closed in 1998 due to its dangerous approach, as planes had to avoid skyscrapers and mountains while trying to land at Kai Tak. Runway 13 was an infamous approach among passengers and pilots. First the airplane would pass over the harbor then very densely populated area of Western Kowloon, according to Tnooz. After reaching a hill with a checkered red and white sign pilots had to make a 47-degree right turn to line up with the runway and land.
Matekane Air Strip, Lesotho, Africa
Flying off a cliff is a common occurrence at the Matekane Air Strip, reports National Geographic. Located in the country of Lesotho in South Africa, the runway is perched 7,500 feet high on a narrow mountain gully and has a 2,000 foot drop off a cliff. At times, planes fail to obtain the required speed on the 1,312 foot long tarmac and plunge off the cliff to take flight, according toVirtualGlobeTrotting.com. Those with bathophobia should probably avoid this altogether.
Share these scary yet somewhat fascinating airstrips with your friends. After all, if they plan to travel to any of these places, they’ll need to know to carry an extra pair of pants!