14 of the world’s most terrifying airport runways

Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten.

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Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten.
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Shutterstock

Even the most jaded jet-setter might find their nails embedded in the armrest when landing at these airports.

From a Caribbean island where the runway ends right at a popular beach to a runway made entirely of ice in Antarctica, here are 14 of the most terrifying airport runways around the world.


Sea Ice Runway, McMurdo Sound‎, ‎Antarctica

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Sea Ice Runway.
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Josh Landis, Wikimedia Commons

Also known as “The Ice,” Sea Ice Runway in Antarctica is unpaved. And if that wasn’t scary enough, it is literally made of ice, which, on top of it all, could crack under the weight of a plane. And when the temperatures rise and the ice melts, there’s essentially no runway to land on at all.


Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten

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Princess Juliana International Airport.
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Wikimedia/Lawrence Lansing

The Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten might be scarier for sunbathers than passengers, as its insanely short runway ends right on the beach. This means that planes have to fly really low, frazzling beach-goers with strong winds and loud noise.​

A woman recently died getting too close to the jet blast.


Paro Airport, Paro, Bhutan

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Paro Airport.
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REUTERS/STR New

Bhutan’s only international airport, in Paro, sits 7,333 feet above sea level and is surrounded by Himalayan peaks of over 16,000 feet. The landing is so dangerous only a handful of pilots are qualified to fly here.


Barra Airport, Eoligarry, Scotland

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Barra Airport.
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Wikimedia

Aside from the fact that planes at Barra Airport in Scotland land on an actual sandy beach, they have to time their landing according to the tide, lest the “runway” disappears completely.


Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Zion’s Hill, Saba Island

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Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport.
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Flickr/killians_red

As if the notoriously windy mountains at Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport on Saba Island in the Caribbean didn’t make landing here tough enough, overshooting the 1,300-foot runway even by a little bit means nose-diving straight into the ocean.


Narsaruaq Airport, Narsarsuaq, Greenland

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Narsaruaq Airport.
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Wikimedia Commons

Surrounded by fjords, Greenland’s Narsaruaq airport has turbulence and wind so common and so grueling that takeoffs and landings are only allowed during the day. Pilots here also need to make a 90-degree turn to line up with the runway – extra tough when it’s windy – and occasionally avoid drifting icebergs.


Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar

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Gibraltar International Airport.
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Dick Elbers, Wikimedia Commons

Besides ending in a harbor and being tightly flanked by a bustling city and a massive mountain, the runway at Gibraltar International Airport is intersected by Winston Churchill Avenue, one of Gibraltar’s busiest streets. (It has to be closed every time a plane lands.)


Madeira Airport, Madeira, Portugal

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Madeira Airport.
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Flickr/Alexander Baxevanis

Known as one of the most dangerous airports in Europe, pilots at Portugal’s Madeira Airport must expertly toe the line between rocky hills and ocean. The runway is also notoriously windy and weirdly short – despite having been extended 655 feet in 2003. Because of this, pilots often need to take a sharp last-minute turn to the right in order to avoid the Atlantic.

In 2017, the airport was rebranded Madeira International Airport Cristiano Ronaldo, in honor of the soccer star who was born in Madeira.


Qamdo Bamda Airport, Baxoi, Qamdo, Tibet, China

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Qamdo Bamda.
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Youtube/Mr. Gultekin

While Tibet’s Qamdo Bamda Airport is no longer the world’s highest airport (China’s Daocheng Yading Airport took that honor), it’s still pretty darn high, and the thin air at 14,219 feet above sea level makes landings extra difficult. And because high-altitude landings are so challenging, Qamdo Bamda has the longest paved runway that’s open to the public in the world, at 3.4 miles.


Gustaf III Airport, St. Barths

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Gustaf III Airport.
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Flickr/Jay Colbath

Similar to St. Maarten’s airport, the one at celebrity hotspot St. Barths has an insanely short runway (2,100 feet) that ends on a public beach full of tanning tourists.


Matekane Air Strip, Matekane, Lesotho

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Matekane Air Strip.
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Tom Claytor, Wikimedia Commons

The runway at Matekane Air Strip in Lesotho in Africa is only 1,300 feet long, but the drop at its end is 2,000 feet. Flying from Lesotho’s airport is essentially the same as when a bird is pushed out of the nest in order to learn to fly.


Ketchikan International Airport, Ketchikan, Alaska

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Ketchikan International Airport.
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Flickr/Joseph

The super short runway at Alaska’s Ketchikan International Airport sees 50 to 190 inches of rain per year and freezing temperatures thanks to its proximity to the mountains and ocean and its strong winds.


Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal

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Tenzing-Hillary Airport.
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Flickr/Petr Meissner

The Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, Nepal, is not only 9,383 feet above sea level, but also has one of the world’s steepest uphill runways – which ends in Himalaya-ringed nothingness. Understandably, flights are only allowed to take off and land here during the day, weather permitting.


Courchevel Airport, Courchevel, France

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Courchevel Airport.
source
Wikipedia

In France, Courchevel’s 1,788-foot runway is not only incredibly short, but also incredibly steep, with a gradient of 18.5%. And did we mention the sheer rock-face drop the runway ends on?