(3 min read)
Recently I was on a trip to Madeira. A quick visit was planned, but what was about to happen made me realise that certain airports may present conditions that do not allow the pilots to land. Funchal, Madeira is one such airport. I discovered my flight had a very senior captain at the helm, as it took a lot of skill and understanding to land safely at this airport. The first officer also had years of experience. Not for your recently qualified commercial pilot without a lot of flying experience. Despite this air traffic control had advised that no flights could land due to the adverse wind. Apparently it’s quite common there. So we ended up landing temporarily on the nearby island of Porto Santos. After four hours here, the airline had managed to secure hotel accomodation for us all to overnight in Fuerteventura. This was definitely a challenging airport runway.
The airline was fantastic and these were conditions beyond their control. What it made me realise is that if you are on a tight schedule and something like this happens, you need to be prepared. I wasn’t, but like everyone else I had to suck it up! So I thought could this happen again? Of course, but certain airports have a higher risk, like Funchal in Madeira.
So we took to a bit of research here at NQ, to identify the most challenging airport runways you may need to know about. So along with Madeira, here is a list of a few more.
Gibraltar Airport, Spain
The airport is located between a bustling city and a crashtastic mountain. Moreover, its 1800 meters long, which is classed as a short runway and intersects the Winston Churchill Avenue, Gibraltar’s busiest road. The road has to be closed every time a plane lands or departs.
Courchevel Airport, France
The mountain runway serving the ski resort in the French Alps is just 545 meters long. Now that is short! And if that’s not scary enough, it’s also got a gradient of 18.5% and a vertical drop at the end. There is no go-around procedure for landings at Courchevel, due to the surrounding mountainous terrain. The runway has no instrument approach procedure or lighting aids, thus making landing in fog and low clouds unsafe and almost impossible. Approach with caution!
Toronto Islands Airport, Ontario, Canada
This airport is another pinpoint landing site. And…wait for it, there’s a nude beach close to the runway! Any pilots feeling the least bit distracted?
Wellington Airport, New Zealand
The airport has a reputation for sometimes rough and turbulent landings, even in larger aircraft. This is due to the channelling effect of Cook Strait creating strong and gusty winds, especially in prefrontal north westerly conditions.
Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten
This airport is best known for very low-altitude flyover landing approaches. This is due to one end of its runway being extremely close to the shore and Maho Beach.
The Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal
Of to climb Everest? This is the airport where most people start the climb to Mount Everest Base Camp. Located in Lukla. Although the flying distance is short, rain commonly occurs in Lukla while the sun is shining brightly in Kathmandu. High winds, cloud cover and changing visibility often mean flights can be delayed or the airport is closed. The Airport is located 2860 meters above sea level, and its runway is only a few hundred meters long (527m). Only for the adventurous, but then heading here indicates a sense of adventure.
Svalbard Airport in Longyearbyen on the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard in the , Norway
This airport was built upon a layer of permafrost in 1975. Continuous repaving makes it a hard landing place, literally and figuratively. It is the northernmost airport in the world with public scheduled flights. Lets hope the landing gear is in tip top condition.
Congonhas Airport in the middle of Sao Paulo, Brazil
Located in the middle of Sao Paulo, Brazil. This airport is highly challenging for pilots.
Paro International Airport, Bhutan
The airport is located 6 km from Paro in a deep valley on the bank of the river Paro Chhu. It has surrounding peaks as high as 5,500 meters and is considered one of the world’s most challenging airports. As of October 2009 only eight pilots in the world were certified to land at the airport.
There are a few more challenging airport runways you may need to know about, but we will leave that for part two. So if you are travelling to any of these be prepared for delays. The other thing this highlighted was the level of experience pilots need for such challenging runways. So if we spot you trying to figure out the age of the pilots, we’ll assume you’ve read this!