Home Miscellaneous Spotting 5 Airports With Unusual Approach Paths

5 Airports With Unusual Approach Paths

by Matt Falcus
London City Approach

Which airports offer the most unusual approach paths for landing airliners?

Since the unique Hong Kong Kai Tak airport closed in 1998 we’ve lost the amazing sight of a widebody airliner swooping low in the turn over high rise apartment blocks.

However, the five airports on this list are still spectacular to watch from the outside, or as a passenger on the inside.


Washington Reagan National

The airport at the hear of the US capital is remarkably close to downtown and all of the important government buildings found there, such as the White House, Pentagon and Lincoln Memorial.

Because of the proximity of these, aircraft  arriving at the airport from the north fly a curved approach over the George Washington Parkway and Potomac River before landing.


London City

London City Approach

Photo (c) London City Airport

Built on former docklands in the heart of London’s Financial District in the late 1980s, London City has grown into a pretty busy airport which even has transatlantic links to New York. Because of the proximity of skyscrapers and other buildings all around the airport, the approach path to the short runway is steeper than that found at other commercial airports.

Because of this only certain aircraft types are permitted to fly in, and the experience for passengers can feel quite fast.

[Blog post: Opening London City’s Runway for Operations]


Funchal, Madeira

The airport on this holiday island in the Atlantic has a runway which is partly built on stilts!

Aircraft arriving from the south will fly a long circular approach over the bay before lining up in the last seconds.

Here’s a video of the approach taken on board a Lufthansa Airbus A321.


Tegucigalpa Toncontin International, Honduras

This has to be one of the most hair-raising airports for any pilot or passenger to fly into.

The airport’s short runway and complex approach through mountains has led to a number of incidents and aircraft losses in the past.

Aircraft arriving from the south pass very close to the neighbouring hills and roads, which is quite a sight when a large Boeing 757 is flying in.

Check out this video of a Boeing 757 landing pretty low…


Rio de Janeiro Santos Dumont

Santos Dumont Airport

Rio’s Santos Dumont Airport

Santos Dumont Airport is built on a peninsula in the bay next to the city and any aircraft approaching from the south have downtown Rio, Sugarloaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer to deal with.

Therefore a curved approach is made, turning onto a short final to the airport’s short runways somewhere over the bay before landing.

The view is great from Sugarloaf Mountain as the aircraft will pass in front and below you as you watch them land.

[Blog Post: Spotting at Rio de Janeiro’s Airports]


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charlieb.good March 11, 2016 - 4:21 pm

You left out San Diego’s airport.

Matt Falcus March 12, 2016 - 2:47 pm

Yeah, San Diego is also a unique airport approach. Thanks for the comment!

skylinepigeon March 12, 2016 - 2:27 pm

The “circle-to-land runway 33” approach to Salzburg (SZG/LOWS) is also fun to watch! Due to the surrounding mountains, all airliner approaches are made to runway 15, but if the tailwind is too much for a landing on this runway, they pass to the east of the airport before making a right-hand turn through more than 180 degrees and lining up visually for runway 33. I believe that some airlines require their crews to be specially qualified to fly this approach.

Matt Falcus March 12, 2016 - 2:47 pm

Thanks for the info! Yeah Salzburg is a very unusual approach!


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