14 of the world’s most terrifying airport runways

Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, Nepal, has one of the world's steepest uphill runways.

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Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, Nepal, has one of the world’s steepest uphill runways.
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Indrik Myneur/Flickr

  • Whether they are high up in the Himalayas or underwater for part of the time, terrifying runways exist at airports around the world.
  • The runway at Gibraltar International Airport is intersected by Winston Churchill Avenue, one of the country’s busiest streets.
  • Also known as “The Ice,” Sea Ice Runway in Antarctica is unpaved.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

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.

Read more: 2 people are buried on a runway at a major US airport where hundreds of planes land every day, and many people have no idea


Also known as “The Ice,” Sea Ice Runway in McMurdo Sound‎, ‎Antarctica, is unpaved.

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Sea Ice Runway in McMurdo Sound‎, ‎Antarctica.
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Josh Landis, Wikimedia Commons

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.


The Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten might be scarier for sunbathers than passengers, as its short runway ends right on the beach.

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Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten.
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Shutterstock

This means that planes have to fly really low, frazzling beach-goers with strong winds and loud noise.​

In 2017, a woman died after getting too close to the jet blast.


Paro Airport in Paro, Bhutan, is so dangerous that only a handful of pilots are qualified to land there.

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Paro Airport in Paro, Bhutan.
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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 that only a handful of pilots are qualified to fly here.


Depending on the tide, there might not even be a runway to land on at Barra Airport in Eoligarry, Scotland.

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 in Zion’s Hill, Saba Island, is notoriously windy, and its runway ends inches from the ocean.

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Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport in Zion’s Hill, Saba Island.
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killians_red/Flickr

As if the mountains near 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 in Narsarsuaq, Greenland, is known for its grueling wind and turbulence.

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Narsaruaq Airport in Narsarsuaq, Greenland.
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Shutterstock

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’s runway is dissected by a super busy road that has to be closed every time a plane lands.

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Gibraltar International Airport in Gibraltar.
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Shutterstock

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 (which has to be closed every time a plane lands).


Despite a recent expansion, the runway at Madeira Airport in Madeira, Portugal, is dangerously short.

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Madeira Airport. in Madeira, Portugal.
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Alexander Baxevanis/Flickr

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.


The thin air at Qamdo Bamda Airport in Tibet — it sits 14,219 feet above sea level —makes landings extra difficult.

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Qamdo Bamda in Qamdo, Tibet, China.
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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.


Overshooting the runway at Gustaf III Airport in St. Barths means barreling right onto a popular tourist beach.

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Gustaf III Airport in St. Barths.
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Shutterstock

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 in Matekane, Lesotho, ends in a terrifying 2,000-foot drop.

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Matekane Air Strip in Matekane, Lesotho.
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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.


Regular rainfall and freezing temperatures make the super short runway at Ketchikan International Airport in Alaska difficult to navigate.

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Ketchikan International Airport in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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Shutterstock

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 in Lukla, Nepal, has one of the world’s steepest uphill runways.

Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, Nepal, has one of the world's steepest uphill runways.

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Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, Nepal.
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Indrik Myneur/Flickr

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 in Courchevel, France, has an incredibly steep runway that ends in a sheer rock-face drop.

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Courchevel Airport in Courchevel, France.
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Hugues Mitton /Wikipedia

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?