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16 Most Dangerous Airports in the World

Everyone from first timers to frequent fliers will be terrified while landing at any of these dangerous airports.

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Airport in Lukla with plane and mountains behind
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Lukla Airport, Nepal

If you are flying into Lukla, you are likely heading to climb Mount Everest. Danger may be your middle name but this airport is treacherous not only because of the extremely short runway but because of its height, location between mountains, and, oh yeah, the lack of power and air traffic controllers. Tackling Everest might be the least scary of all!

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Honduras Crisis - Jul 2009
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Toncontin Airport, Honduras

Another dangerous high altitude airport makes the list because, according to Interesting Engineering, in order for planes to prepare for the descent into Toncontin Airport, “they must make a quick 45-degree bank turn to reach the runway in a valley then rapidly drop altitude, being careful not to scrape the terrain directly underneath.” Brush up on these tips on how to survive a plane crash before you fly.

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Maho bay in St Martin: one of the main attractions for plane spotters!
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Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten

The large wide-bodied planes carrying tourists to St. Maarten require more than 8,000 feet of runway to land safely. What makes the picturesque Princess Juliana Airport dangerous isn’t the sunbathers below on the beach but the technically-too-short 7,100-foot runway originally built for the smaller planes that once frequented the island before the tourism boom arrived. But fear not, fruity drinks with umbrellas are waiting to relax your nerves once you touchdown! It might be scary but it sure is beautiful to land on St. Maarten.

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Paro Rinpung Dzong with Paro International Airport in the foreground
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Paro Airport, Bhutan

How dangerous is the landing at this rather unassuming airport with the microscopic 6,500-foot runway tucked in among 18,000-foot peaks of the Himalayan Mountains? Only eight(!!!) pilots in total are qualified to make the landing here at Paro Airport!

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Narsarsuaq (Airport BGBW) and Brattahlid located on Eriksfjord - aerial view
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Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland

Nowhere else on earth does a pilot have to contend with the mix of factors that exist at this dangerous airport. Short runways covered in ice, extremely cold temperatures, severe winds, and low visibility due to not only heavy snow but also ash clouds from nearby active volcanoes make landing at Narsarsuaq Airport in Greenland not for the faint of heart.

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Aircraft at the airport after landing, preparing to be docked, in the background Agua de Pena village, Madeira, Portugal

Madeira Airport, Portugal

According to Jalopnik, “only 20 captains with British Airways are qualified to operate into Madeira Airport (FNC), in which they use waypoints like a banana shed [to guide them in].” Additionally, there is “no instrument landing system (ILS) so pilots must navigate the challenging terrain manually. The destination is particularly treacherous due to strong and highly variable Atlantic winds, mountains on one side and the ocean on the other.” And don’t forget that the runway was extended from 5,249 feet to 9, 124 feet by building it out into the ocean on 180 concrete pillars— it is now like a runway on stilts! The ambitious project won the 2004 Outstanding Structure Award which is considered the Oscars of structural engineering.

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COURCHEVEL - FEBRUARY 25. A Pilatus PC12 during a dangerous landing where it has touched down before the runway! This private airplane brings skiers during French winter holidays on February 25, 2017.
Roberto Chiartano/Shutterstock

Courchevel Airport, France

Located in the French Alps, near the Italian border, sits this dangerous airport serving ski resorts and their daredevil guests. What makes the Courchevel Airport so dangerous is the altitude of course (6,500 feet), but also the tiny 1,760-foot runway and its 18.5 percent gradient slope making it necessary for the small planes landing here to touchdown at inclined angles just to slow down. The lack of lighting and no approach system also help to place this airport anywhere on the scale from treacherous to simply impossible to use in adverse weather.

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GIBRALTAR - AUGUST 29, 2017: City of Gibraltar, the airport runway with a landed Monarch airplane and La Linea de la Concepcion in Spain.
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Gibraltar Airport, Gibraltar

Wow Travel says that the Gibraltar Airport has but one runway and that that dangerous runway cuts right through the main street of the city! “Vehicles are made to stop every time an aircraft lands or takes off. Somehow there has never been a major accident.” Find out about the little-known airplane feature that could save your life.

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Runway of an airport. An airplane just took off in the background
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Gisborne Airport, New Zealand

While road traffic must come to a standstill for airplanes in Gibraltar, landings at Gisborne Airport on the eastern edge of New Zealand’s North Island must be coordinated with the national rail service which runs the Palmerston North–Gisborne Line directly across the one main paved and three grass runways.

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Marine Corps Air Station Futenma or MCAS Futenma is a United States Marine Corps base located in Ginowan, Okinawa, Japan - 23 Jul 2013

MCAS Futenma, Okinawa Japan

“The situation of MCAS Futenma,” according to The Diplomat “is in direct violation of the safety standards set down for military airfields by the U.S. Department of the Navy, in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.” The dangerous U.S. Marine Corps Air Station runway sits smack dab in the middle of a crowded city, with schools, hospitals, businesses, and more than 3,000 residents in what is supposed to be a “clear zone.”

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Long paved runway shot from its threshold markings
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Bert Mooney Airport, Butte Montana

Sure it has a lovely new $10.5 million dollar terminal, but this picturesque airport between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks still ranks as a dangerous one thanks to a lack of control tower and the need for pilots to navigate numerous obstructions while landing.

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The entrance to Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (ASE) on a clear blue sky (HDR image)
The World in HDR/Shutterstock

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, Colorado

Any airport that requires special pilot training easily makes a list of the most dangerous airports in the world. Aspen’s airport, according to the Telegraph, fits the bill thanks to its steep approach and mountains surrounding the runway which force those specially trained pilots to land and take off in opposite directions while using the single runway. Aspen doesn’t make the grade but here are the best major U.S. airports.

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Photos of Airport Runways at twilight, showing runway markings, runway lights, clear skies and mountains in the horizon

Telluride Regional Airport, Colorado

Not surprisingly, another Colorado Rocky Mountain airport is ranked as one of the most dangerous. Telluride’s Regional Airport sits over 9,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest commercial airport in North America. There are huge cliffs at both ends of the airport’s single runway, and strong mountain winds in the cold of winter, all serving to make landing an airplane in Telluride a dangerous proposition for even experienced pilots.

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Airport, on island of Saba in Caribbean area, has one of the shortest runways in the world, only 400 metres long. Flanked on one side by high hills, with cliffs that drop into the sea at both ends.
Martin Sun/Shutterstock

Saba Airport, Dutch Caribbean

You might think that King Kong is dangerous but his “native island” (Saba provided the silhouette for Skull Island in the original King Kong film) in the Dutch Caribbean (a 15-minute flight from St. Maarten) has an airport that incites more fear than the famous gorilla ever could. Sitting precariously on the edge of a cliff, this tiny and narrow 1,300-foot runway is scary enough to have even the most seasoned traveler clutching the armrest during a landing on this gem of a remote Caribbean island known for stellar SCUBA diving.

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Sao Paulo, SP / Brazil - July 17, 2012: A plane of Brazil's TAM airline arrives in Congonhas airport past the site of the tragedy where an aircraft of TAM crashed and burst into flames in July17 2007.

Congonhas Airport, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Per a Forbes report, this regional airport serving the 12 million people of Sao Paulo is “located in a heavily built-up part of the huge city and gives you the impression that you are scraping the tops of high rise buildings as you land.” In addition to the busy metropolis rising up from the ground to make this airport one of the world’s most dangerous, “the runways are considered the most slippery in the world and have resulted in a large number of fatal crashes.”

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Longyearbyen, Svalbard - August 2017: Passengers disembark from Norwegian aircraft at the Svalbard airport Longyear (LYR) - northernmost airport in the world with public scheduled flights.
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Svalbard Airport, Norway

Built upon a layer of permafrost, Svalbard is the northernmost airport in the world with scheduled public flights. Due to the lack of runway lights, flights are only permitted during daylight, which is fine when there are 24-hours of it during summer days but not when the opposite reality takes hold in winter. Because this dangerous airport was deemed to be not in line with international standards, Svalbard’s Longyearbyen Airport lost its international designation in 2017 meaning the only way to reach this remote Arctic Circle airport, and to experience the frequent polar bear sightings on the archipelago, is from Tromsø or Bergen on mainland Norway. Check out more of the scariest airports to take off from and land at.

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award–winning photographer, avid traveler and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment and more for Reader's Digest. He is the proud dad of teen daughters.