The ten scariest runways
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The Ten Scariest Runways. #10 Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport Saba, Netherlands Antilles. Who Flies There: Windward Islands Airways (Winair).

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10 juancho e yrausquin airport saba netherlands antilles
#10 Juancho E. Yrausquin AirportSaba, Netherlands Antilles

  • Who Flies There: Windward Islands Airways (Winair).

  • Why It’s Harrowing: Perched on a precipitous gale-battered peninsula on the island’s northeastern corner, the airport requires pilots to tackle blustery trade winds, occasional spindrift, and their own uneasy constitutions as they maneuver in for a perfect landing (there’s no margin for error) on a runway that’s just 1,300 feet long. "Shorting this means ending up in the cliffs," says one pilot matter-of-factly, "while overshooting it means an uncomfortable go-around. Either way, you’ll want to bring the Dramamine."

9 madeira airport funchal portugal
#9 Madeira AirportFunchal, Portugal

  • Who Flies There: Most scheduled (and many charter) European carriers.

  • Why It’s Harrowing: Wedged in by mountains and the Atlantic, Madeira Airport requires a clockwise approach for which pilots are specially trained. Despite a unique elevated extension that was completed back in 2000 and now expands the runway length to what should be a comfortable 9,000 feet, the approach to Runway 05 remains a hair-raising affair that pilots absolutely dread. They must first point their aircraft at the mountains and, at the last minute, bank right to align with the fast-approaching runway.

8 john f kennedy intl airport new york
# 8 John F. Kennedy INTL AirportNew York

  • Who Flies There: All major U.S., European, and Asian airlines.

  • Why It’s Harrowing: Parkway Visual—a.k.a. the Canarsie Approach—is the especially daunting flyway here, since pilots have to avoid interfering with flights into New York’s two other close-by airports, LaGuardia and Newark. Set up in 1964 as a noise-abatement measure to pacify angry residents, this approach forces pilots to have a reported 1,500-foot ceiling and a five-mile visibility for their circular approach before lining up with runway 13L, with the threatening waters of Jamaica Bay beckoning at the runway’s end.

7 toncont n airport tegucigalpa honduras
#7 Toncontín AirportTegucigalpa,Honduras

  • Who Flies There: American Airlines, Continental, Copa Airlines, TACA, Islena Airlines, and Aerolineas Sosa.

  • Why It’s Harrowing: Having negotiated the rough-hewn mountainous terrain, pilots must execute a dramatic 45-degree, last-minute bank to the left just minutes prior to touching down in a bowl-shaped valley on a runway just 6,112 feet in length. The airport, at an altitude of 3,294 feet, can accommodate aircraft no larger than Boeing 757’s.

6 barra airport barra scotland
#6 Barra AirportBarra, Scotland

  • Who Flies There: British Airways and Flybe.

  • Why It’s Harrowing: Have you ever landed on a beach? The airport on the tiny Outer Hebridean Island of Barra is actually a wide shallow bay onto which scheduled planes land, making it a curiosity in the world of aviation. Admittedly, the roughness of the landings is determined by how the tide goes out to sea. Locals, who are avid cockle pickers, steer clear of the vast swath of hardened sand when the wind sock is up—a sign that specially rigged Twin Otter propeller aircraft are incoming.

5 matekane air strip lesotho
#5 Matekane Air StripLesotho

  • Who Flies There: Charities delivering aid, and the occasional bush pilot.

  • Why It’s Harrowing: Because of the diminutive 1,312-foot-long runway perched at the edge of a couloir at 7,550 feet, becoming airborne at the end of the tarmac is virtually impossible. Instead, you drop down the face of a 2,000-foot cliff until you start flying. Says bush pilot Tom Claytor, "The rule in the mountains is that it is better to take off downwind and downhill than into wind and uphill, because in Lesotho, the hills will usually out-climb you. It's a little bit hard to do the first time.“


4 gibraltar airport gibraltar
#4 Gibraltar AirportGibraltar

  • Who Flies There: Air Malta, British Airways, EasyJet, Iberia Airlines, and Monarch Airlines.

  • Why It’s Harrowing: Pinched in by the Mediterranean on its eastern flank and the Bay of Algeciras on its western side, the airport’s truncated runway stretches just 6,000 feet and requires pinpoint precision. And upon hitting the tarmac, pilots must quickly and fully engage the auto-brakes. Yet as nerve-wracking as the landing can be, it’s never guaranteed. Because of Gibraltar’s unique topography, the British colony endures unusual localized weather patterns that cause flights to be diverted to nearby Tangiers, Faro, and Malaga.

3 reagan national airport washington d c
#3 Reagan National AirportWashington, D.C.

  • Who Flies There: All major U.S. airlines.

  • Why It’s Harrowing: Flying around Washington, D.C., is fraught with peril—just ask the pilot of a small aircraft that drifted into restricted airspace in March 2008, causing Congress to be evacuated and military planes to be scrambled. Located smack in the center of two overlapping air-exclusion zones, Reagan National requires pilots flying the so-called River Visual into the airport to follow the Potomac while steering clear of sensitive sites such as the Pentagon and CIA headquarters before making a steep turn and landing on this natural peninsula. Taking off, too, is scary event in which pilots are required to climb quickly and execute a steep left bank to avoid flying over the White House.

2 princess juliana intl airport st maarten
#2 Princess Juliana INTL AirportSt. Maarten

  • Who Flies There: All major U.S. airlines, as well as Paris-based charter carrier Corsairfly, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and a handful of regional operators.

  • Why It’s Harrowing: The length of the runway—just 7,152 feet—is perfectly fine for small or medium-size jets, but as the second-busiest airport in the Eastern Caribbean, it regularly welcomes so-called heavies—long-haul wide-body jetliners like Boeing 747’s and Airbus A340’s—from Europe, which fly in improbably low over Maho Beach and skim just over the perimeter fence.

1 paro airport bhutan
#1 Paro AirportBhutan

  • Who Flies There: Druk Air, the national carrier.

  • Why It’s Harrowing: Tucked into a tightly cropped valley and surrounded by 16,000-foot-high serrated Himalayan peaks, this is arguably the world’s most forbidding airport to fly into. It requires specially trained pilots to maneuver into this stomach-dropping aerie by employing visual flying rules and then approaching and landing through a narrow channel of vertiginous tree-covered hillsides.

Thanks to travel leisure

Thanks to Travel + Leisure