I'd rather take the train
April 23, 2008 12:36 PM   Subscribe

The World's Scariest Runways. I'm sure I've seen St. Maarten highlighted on the blue before, but some of the other airport runways listed in the above article also look a little too hair-raising for my liking. At the top of the list is landing in Bhutan, but in my humble opinion, the most alarming one (albeit not used for commercial airliners), is the Matekane Airstrip in Lesotho.
posted by idiomatika (42 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm glad to see National on there. No, it's not tucked between massive peaks or suspended off a cliff or anything, but the steep banks, turns and twists that pilots have to make in jumbo jets are pretty harrowing. It used to really get to me, particularly on really storm approaches, but now I love it because its usually the end of some real pain-in-the-ass business trip for me.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:54 PM on April 23, 2008

I'm sure I've seen St. Maarten highlighted on the blue before...

Yep, as well as other scary landing strips.
posted by ericb at 1:01 PM on April 23, 2008

The abandoned Avon Airport in the mountains of Colorado was at 8,500 feet and had the steepest ILS approach in the world.

Mountain Air (2NC0) is terrifying because the runway begins right at the edge of a cliff. At least a couple of people have slammed into the cliff face when attempting to land.
posted by bunnytricks at 1:02 PM on April 23, 2008

John Wayne in Orange County is ... whoosh!.
posted by notyou at 1:04 PM on April 23, 2008

Minuteman Airfield in Stow, MA in a Cessna 152 approaching too fast. My instructor put us in a side slip (or skid, I don’t remember what that full-right-aileron / opposite rudder slow-down-the-plane-by-flying-sideways technique is called) and I swear to god I saw pinecones out the front window.

Scariest damn runway I’ve ever seen. Good thing they have an awesome restaurant.
posted by bondcliff at 1:10 PM on April 23, 2008

Kai Tak Airport (old Hong Kong strip in the middle of the harbor) was spectacular. Maybe I was too young (25) to appreciate the danger but it felt awesome to land at night, in the middle of all those lights and skyscrapers. Plus, it was Chinese New Year, so the 25 story neon bunnies added a nice twist.
posted by msalt at 1:15 PM on April 23, 2008

in st. martin you can take photos on the beach that look like a plane is about to fly right into your head.
posted by snofoam at 1:17 PM on April 23, 2008

What, no Malé International Airport in the Maldives? When we were landing there, my only thought was "oh they cannot be landing this jumbo jet on that tiny strip of land."

And I think La Guardia's runways are scarier than JFK's.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2008

Good thing they have an awesome restaurant.

I'd think after landings like that you'd need a good clothing store (for clean pants) rather a restaurant.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:24 PM on April 23, 2008

I echo msalt's sentiments about Kai Tak, although I was very aware of how scary the approach was having flown to Hong Kong many times. When I was a lot younger I thought nothing of it, then I hit my late 20s and realized I was quite mortal. I then proceeded to crap my pants in retroactive fear.
posted by illiad at 1:26 PM on April 23, 2008

Minuteman is a cakewalk. There are far scarier in New England.

As a pilot and former airport employee, I have lots of airport stories. Like the guy who flew his Bonanza to Block Island in winter. Winter on the Atlantic Ocean tends to bring high winds and ice, and that's exactly what he got on landing - skidded right off the (relatively short) runway into a bunch of parked airplanes.

The "scary" airport back home in Jersey was Camden County Regional. Very short runway with a displaced threshold on one end and railroad tracks on the other. The first time I flew into there it was very clear where the fence at the end of the runway had been recently replaced. Someone overshot the runway and went on to the tracks.

Danbury, CT, is probably my favorite around here. It's nestled among a bunch of hills, and the approach to the shorter runway has you descending between two hills such that you're below the tops of them for quite awhile. At the other end of the runway is a mall, so don't panic and come in high and fast on the approach.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:27 PM on April 23, 2008

Oh, I forgot about Bader Field in Atlantic City! I think it's closed now, but when it was open it was a nightmare. There are two runways, but you can't take off from one of them and can't land on the other one - the casinos get in the way. They were also ridiculously short and poorly maintained.

That video of the Hawker running off the runway into a lake? That was at Bader.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:30 PM on April 23, 2008

I've heard scary things about the airport on Catalina Island in Southern California.
posted by Slothrup at 2:11 PM on April 23, 2008

They didn't mention the best part of Gibraltar Airport -- The highway to the rest of Gibraltar goes right across the runway.

Don't worry, though -- they have gates!
posted by eriko at 2:16 PM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

I would rank St. Maarten's beach as scarier than their runway. Jeez, just look at that.
posted by NoMich at 2:18 PM on April 23, 2008

Flying into San Francisco, I seem to recall that there's a point where it looks like you're going directly into the bay.
posted by RavinDave at 2:21 PM on April 23, 2008

Let's not forget Courchevel in the French Alps, it's 525 metres long and drops (or climbs) over 60 metres at a gradient of 18.5%.
posted by jontyjago at 2:22 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is it wrong that I pushing for a honeymoon in St. Maarten versus the many other tropical options, in no small part because all these hundreds of awesome landings I've watched on You-Tube over and over again?
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2008

ummm, it was a Cessna Citation, there backseatpilot.
posted by pjern at 2:32 PM on April 23, 2008

jfk is scary?

that list isn't worth the bandwidth it cost me (and that wasn't much).

how come Kulusuk Island or Telluride or Avalon/Catalin Island (approaches over a cliff with a sudden altitude change are tough, guys) aren't on that list? or that tricky alaska airport alaska airlines used to send a 737 to... forgot the name.

again, weak list.
posted by krautland at 2:34 PM on April 23, 2008

Ha! I've been to St. Martin a few times now, and it's never occurred to me to be scared by the runway. I've always just been bemused.
posted by Stewriffic at 2:43 PM on April 23, 2008

I've flown in to Tegucigalpa, and it is indeed interesting to fly into to say the least. Definitely the steepest banked turn I've experienced in a commercial plane. The burnt out planes along the runway was also pretty unnerving. Taking off wasn't real scary though.
posted by Eekacat at 3:46 PM on April 23, 2008

jfk is scary?

Have you tried changing planes there?
posted by Pollomacho at 3:48 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

They're building a new on in Quito, Ecuador, but the old one (Mariscal Sucre) was a nightmare. The city is already at 10,000 feet, the airport is the middle of it, and you have huge volcanoes rising at the edge of the city. Planes come in, clawing at the thin air, and then right before landing have to make a crazy turn to hit the runway. Pilots hated it, apparently. Nice scenery, though.
posted by gottabefunky at 4:03 PM on April 23, 2008

Back in the 80's and 90's I used to travel to St. Martin at least two or three times a year, so I've flown into that airport dozens of times. From the passenger perspective it's not particularly scary, although pretty cool to see the people on the beach.

(OT) If you're thinking of going to St. Martin for a vacation, please reconsider unless you like gambling and club nightlife. St Martin is overcrowded, overpriced, and somewhat polluted. For a more peaceful vacation go to Anguilla which is 10 minutes from St Martin by plane or 30 minutes by ferry.

For a frightening plane ride from the passenger's perspective there is the Saba runway 30 miles south of St. Martin. I think the runway is semi-closed now, but it still counts as the shortest commercial runway I believe. The approach to the runway is even more terrifying than it looks in the picture, it's a one-two punch. First it appears as if you're going to fly into the island and then when you land it seems inevitable that you will fall off a cliff into the ocean.

If I remember correctly we canceled our flight back and took a boat.
posted by jeremias at 4:09 PM on April 23, 2008

Have you tried changing planes there?

I'd guesstimate I've done that a few hundred times, yeah.
if you find this challenging ... don't go to paris.
posted by krautland at 5:14 PM on April 23, 2008

I flew in and out of Saba last year (from St Maarten) on WinAir. Landing and take-off are an experience.
posted by gruchall at 5:20 PM on April 23, 2008

I have flown in and out of Courchevel, it is both completely scary and really cool.
posted by msjen at 5:46 PM on April 23, 2008

What about Mont Aiguille? You can access video of Giraud (1957) from here (The Mont Blanc landing is pretty spectacular footage too). [via a brokenlinked old post of mine]
posted by tellurian at 5:50 PM on April 23, 2008

Hunh. I was expecting Lukla Airport in Nepal to be on the list. 527 meters long, almost 20% incline, and when you take off, you drop off a 700 meter cliff (which my stomach still remembers, let me tell you, even though I was there 14 years ago). Take off video here, landing video here.

Still better than the bus, though.
posted by bettafish at 5:57 PM on April 23, 2008

(OT, to the vacationers) Aww, don't give up on FRENCH St Martin. My honeymoon in Grand Case last year was absolutely perfect. Quiet, comfortable, beautiful beach, amazing food. The closest thing to "nightlife" was a little beach bar where a French dude sang acoustic covers of Depeche Mode and Prince (which was just as awesome as it sounds). We didn't spend much time on the Dutch side, but it seemed pretty awful -- like jeremias described.
posted by liet at 6:13 PM on April 23, 2008

My 2p is for the Faero Islands airport, all hills and short run way ending with the sea. But I don't know how that compares to the others mentioned.
posted by lundman at 6:50 PM on April 23, 2008

Flying gliders (aka sailplanes) makes this stuff look like a walk in the park. Especially when hunting for ridge lift, doing figure-o-eights while skimming trees on a montainside. Or landing in a crosswind, with only one chance to get it right.

In a power plane, your landing is a bit off? Power up, wheels up, go around. Big deal.
posted by randomstriker at 8:21 PM on April 23, 2008

John Wayne in Orange County is ... whoosh!

Indeed, the noise restrictions there are crazy. I started using Ontario because a) it was cheaper, even with the longer drive factored in, and b) no rocket-ship ride takeoff.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:46 PM on April 23, 2008

Seconding most of jeremias' comment, but also agreeing that the French side of the island is a much better place to stay

I took a day trip to St Eustacious from St Martin's which required a brief stop-over on Saba; closest you'll get to a carrier-deck landing without joining up, although I think I'd have felt safer with some arresting wires covering the landing strip
posted by Molesome at 4:06 AM on April 24, 2008

My favorite memory of Kai Tak was coming in around 9 pm and looking out the airplane window into some dude's apartment and seeing what he was watching on TV. He didn't even look away from the tube.
posted by Quietgal at 7:19 AM on April 24, 2008

My brother had mentioned a major airport (in China?) that required planes landing to drop several thousand feet very quickly, then make a sharp turn prior to reaching the runway. He mentioned seeing videos that were scary, but I've got nothing.

Maybe someone with more airport knowledge, better google-fu, and unrestricted access to youtube could take that info and run with it...
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:07 AM on April 24, 2008

After a brief search, I think msalt has it with Kai Tak. I'll check youtube later...
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:15 AM on April 24, 2008

There are some pretty impressive airports in British Columbia. Terrace for example, has a climb over an 8000 foot mountain at the end of it, and Cranbrook is nestled so snugly in a valley that the standard approach seems to be "find a hole in the clouds and fall through it."

But for my money, Lillooet is the pants shredder. The airstrip is perched on a bench above the Fraser River in a steep canyon. Although this photo doesn't do it justice, think about the fact that the shot was taken from one of the mountains beside the runway.

And for the inexperienced, Vancouver, like San Francisco has an "omigod were descending into the sea" approach. When you land from the Strait of Georgia side, you descend to less than 100 feet before you actualy cross over the shoreline. I've sat next to a number of first-timers who get really nervous as the water gets closer and closer.
posted by salishsea at 9:15 AM on April 24, 2008

I flew in to Unalaska (Dutch Harbor) many times as a fisherman in the 80’s and 90’s. This looks like a turboprop, but they used to use 737’s then – the plane would shake like hell when they reversed thrust to avoid the harbor at the other end. For some reason I am having trouble linking directly to the video, it is to the right under related. The airport has a taxiway to the harbor off the end, this Grumman Goose flys to outlying areas in the Aleutians.
posted by rotifer at 11:48 AM on April 24, 2008

There's one approach into Philadelphia that I've been on several times that makes it seem like you're going to touch down in the Delaware. JFK has a similar one, as mentioned in the article, and LGA also has one.
posted by oaf at 2:54 PM on April 24, 2008

No Wellington airport?
posted by rodgerd at 3:30 PM on April 24, 2008

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