Orson Welles once wrote: “There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror”. We’re sure they wouldn’t want to admit it, but the following runways have pilots experiencing a lot more of the latter than the former. Our featured image is by Mike Roberts NYC.
Paro Airport – Paro Dzngkha, Bhutan
Paro is widely regarded as the world’s most forbidding landing. On approach, pilots must skirt first over, then through 16,000-ft Himalayan peaks, all the while disregarding the kind of warning alarms that would signal disaster on most flights.
If that wasn’t enough to contend with, the mountainous topography whips up forceful and unpredictable gusts of winds, ensuring the straining of nerves right until touchdown.
Pilots require special training to land here, and apparently there’s only eight who currently come up to scratch. That’s what the Daily Mail says anyway…
Courchevel Altiport – Rhône-Alpes, France
Taking the coach to the ski resort is so passé – much better to hop aboard a light aircraft and land right next to the piste. Les Trois Vallées ski resort in the French Alps offers skiers just that.
The runway’s only 1,722 feet long (in comparison the longest runway at New York’s JFK is more than 14,500 ft!) not ideal for slowing down upon landing, or reaching the necessary speed for take off.
We’re not sure if it was by design or necessity, but much of its tiny length is shaped like a ski-jump, which helps out on both fronts.
Unfortunately, the undulations can do nothing to hide the sheer mountainside drop at its lower end. Don’t even get us started on the unpredictable winds.
Toncontín Airport – Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Negotiate desolate mountain terrain. Tick. Execute dramatic, steep, last-minute left turn moments before landing. Tick. Clear, by no more than half the length of a football pitch, a treacherously steep bank at the end of that turn. Tick. Slow down a mid-sized passenger jet on a relatively short runway (just over 9,000 ft). Tick.
Welcome to Toncontín. The runway’s been extended by at least a couple thousand feet. The daunting slope on the final approach has been lowered a bit through blasting, but this remains one of the sternest tests of airline piloting in the world.
Reagan National Airport – Washington D.C., USA
You might not expect a major U.S. city’s airport to feature on a list like this, but it’s the very gravitas of the capital that makes this approach so challenging. Two no-fly zones overlap in this airport’s vicinity, meaning pilots must steer a tight course following the Potomac River while keeping well clear of sensitive facilities such as the Pentagon and the CIA’s headquarters.
Pilots deviating just a little from the prescribed course will have to explain to their concerned passengers why Air Force fighter jets have arrived on each side to escort the plane.
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport – Saba, Netherlands Antilles
This wind-battered airstrip (it would be a bit generous to describe this as an airport) stretches across a tiny Peninsula that juts out from the north-eastern corner of Saba.
On approach, pilots’ minds are occupied with the vagaries of this region’s blustery trade winds. Which is just as well, because the 1,300-ft long runway doesn’t bare contemplating. Come in short and you meet a very unforgiving jagged cliff face.
Overshoot and you’re into the equally unforgiving Caribbean Sea. Well, that or throttle the engine to go-around for another nerve-wracking try.
You can also check out our blog on the hair-raising Tensing-Hilary Airport at Lukla (Nepal) here.
Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…