Passengers board a plane with the expectation that the pilot will also land that plane. It’s part of their job description. On the following runways, however, the task is not necessarily so straightforward. We list the 10 most exceptional runways around the world.
1. Madeira Airport, Portugal
Despite its unusual architecture and precarious location, Madeira airport – off the coast of Portugal –
regularly accommodates commercial flights. In order to land on the coastal runway, supported by
180 70-meter tall columns, pilots must undergo special training, and rightly so. (Photo: Richard
2. Princess Juliana International Airport, Sint Maarten
Located on the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten, departure from this runway is often cited as being
more difficult than landing. Pilots must navigate past the mountains ahead immediately after takeoff.
The approach to the runway happens over the exposed Maho Beach, from where beachgoers
have a spectacular view of the approaching plane. (Photo: Sxmairport)
3. Ice Runway, Antarctica
This runway is exactly what the name suggests: a runway on ice. Although what is here regarded as
ice is actually a 10cm layer of very compact snow. Surprisingly, pilots have reported that landing on
ice isn’t that different from landing on concrete. There are in fact several runways on the continent,
as if there was ever going to be a lack of space. Do remember to pack your parka.
4. Courchevel Altiport, France
Located in the largest connected ski-area in the world Les Trois Vallées, Courchevel Altiport will
provide both scenic and nerve-racking moments for pilots and passengers alike. The runway is just
over 500 meters long, has no lights and, to make things just that one bit more difficult, includes a
18.5% upslope gradient. Courchevel is one of the toughest and simultaneously rewarding locations
to land at. You might remember this runway from a certain Bond film.
5. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba
On the tiny Carribean island of Saba sits the world’s shortest commercial runway. Covering a grand total of 400 meters, the runway is met by both mountains and a cliff drop-off. Only a few plane types have the necessary license to operate to and from the airport. A flight to Princess Juliana
International Airport, number 2 on this list and ranked by The History Channel program Most
Extreme Airports as the 4th most dangerous airport in the world, can take as little as 12 minutes.
6. Gibraltar International Airport, Gibraltar
At Gibraltar International Airport, we find a runway which not only intersects the politically
symbolic Winston Churchill Avenue, but also extends into the Alboran Sea. During World War II,
the British Royal Navy initially began using the runway as a landing strip, and prior to that it used to
be part of a racetrack built by the Maltese, who colonized the peninsula in the 18th century. This
runway is no one trick pony. (Photo: Gibraltar Airport)
7. Qamdo Bamba Airport, Tibet
Once upon a time, Qamdo Bamba Airport was known for having both the highest and longest
runway in the world. It has recently been overtaken by a fellow Tibetan airport in terms of altitude.
However, it still boasts the world’s longest runway, measuring a whopping 5.5 kilometers.
Passengers deboard at an altitude of over just over 4,300 meters, and are advised to proceed with
caution to avoid lightheadedness.
8. Gisborne Airport, New Zealand
We have reached another crossroads on our list. This time on the Northern island of New Zealand,
all the way in the Northeastern corner. Here we find Gisborne Airport, which hosts a runway that
intersects with a railway line. Thankfully only a few airports in the world carry this distinction.
9. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal
Named after the first two men to climb Mount Everest, Tenzing-Hillary Airport is as much of an
airport as it is a 500-meter long, 20 meter-wide slab of concrete. Located in the town of Lukla, it is the starting point for many who intend on climbing Mount Everest, and is often dubbed the most dangerous airport in the world. (Updated January 18: There is a control tower at Tenzing-Hillary Airport.)
10. Matekane Airstrip, Lesotho
We have reached the end of our list, and there can only be one contender to wrap up a roll call of
unique runways: Matekane Airstrip. At less than 400 meters long, it is the shortest runway on our
roster. In fact, it so short that pilots often can’t pick up enough speed when taking off, and must
simply drive the aircraft off the cliff and hope to take flight during the drop.