Faith Norris has written this run-down of some of the scariest runways around the world. How many have you flown to?
Scary Runways around the World
Flying can be a turbulent experience for some, especially the take-off and landing. However, the thrill of arriving at an exciting and fun location means that most of us are keen fliers who love knowing we’re just hours away from dream destinations. So, fasten your seatbelts, and let’s look at five of the shortest and scariest runways around the world.
Santa Catarina, Madeira, FNC
The international airport on Madeira Island is known as Funchal Airport, located just 13km from the Funchal Cathedral. The runway is 9000 ft. long and the landing process is not a straight forward descent. With the Atlantic Ocean to one side of the runway and sheer mountains to the other, the pilot has to direct the plane towards these mountains before making a last minute turn to land on this short runway. The airport opened in 1964, when the runway was just 5,200 ft., before being revamped in the 21st century. Once landed on this beautiful Portuguese island, tourists can enjoy exploring towns such as Funchal and Canico, taking stunning mountainous walks, as well as visiting excellent beaches. The southern location of the island means that the weather on Madeira is great all year round.
Tenzing Hillary, Nepal, LUA
Also known as Lukla, the Himalayan airport is renowned for having one of the most feared runways in the world. Built on a steep incline in the middle of the Himalayan Mountains, it’s a mere 1500 ft. long and 65 ft. wide! There is no room for error when landing as you approach the runway, winding your way through mountain peaks and clouds. The take-off is just as daunting, accelerating at full speed down the runway before reaching a 9000 foot drop into the valley. The airport is usually quite a busy place as it’s the starting point for people trekking to the Khumbu and the Mount Everest Base Camps.
The airport at Courcheval in the French Alps has a steep runway, with a gradient of 18%, a length of just 1700 ft. and a vertical drop at the end. The weather conditions throw another spanner in the works, with snow, wind and ice making for a challenging landing at the best of times. As pilots approach to land they have to carefully manoeuvre between the snowy valleys and mountains, this can only be performed by specially trained pilots. As well as being rather dangerous, the airport also has another claim to fame; filming for the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies took place here. Even Pierce Brosnan must have been slightly scared! To calm your nerves, make a detour at the après-ski bar in the airport, grab a hot chocolate or a shot of schnapps to really warm you through, as you watch the planes attempt the awkward landing. Once sufficiently settled after the nerve-racking land, tighten those ski boots, click on your skis and carve up the piste.
Heraklion, Crete, HER
Heraklion airport, also known as Nikos Kazantzakis, is the second busiest airport in Greece after Athens. It was first opened in March 1939 where it was simply a flat area of agricultural land. It wasn’t until 1953 that it had a concrete runway measuring a mere 5,100 ft. Over the years, the airport has had a number of improvements, with terminals being built as well as the runway being extended to 8,000 ft. It operates to 102 destinations in 27 countries offering stunning views of the island as you fly over the Mediterranean Sea. In 2012 over forty thousand flights arrived and departed the airport. Unfortunately, it’s requested that photographs or videos are not to be taken, as the airport is the base for the Hellenic Air Force. Fear not, as once you’ve landed, there will be plenty of opportunities to take your holiday snaps.
Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, FUE
The runway at Fuerteventura airport, also known as El Matorral, is 7000 ft. long and requires a skilled pilot to land safely on the short stretch. It reaches out to 66 destinations in 11 countries and caters to millions of tourists every year; 5 million in 2012! Built in the 1960s, and next to the Atlantic Ocean, it gives passengers a stunning view as they arrive in Puerto del Rosario, the island’s capital. As you come in to land, you’ll notice the lunar landscape and golden sand dunes. Once you’ve touched down, head to the coast to try out water sports activities, such as windsurfing and kite surfing, taking advantage of the strong winds and great waves. Corralejo and Costa Calma are both popular resorts, with long sandy beaches and excellent restaurants.
Even though you may have to overcome some minor panic, the destination will make the flying experience worthwhile, and you’ll have some great stories to tell your friends if you spend time one of these iconic runways. Buckle up and enjoy your travels.