January 30, 2009 / 11:06 AM / 10 years ago

Travel Picks: Top 10 scariest runways

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Nervous fliers, stop reading! Travel website Travel + Leisure has come up with a list of the world’s scariest runways that can make even the most relaxed travelers grip their armrest.

An Iberia aircraft flies during a test before landing at the airport in Gibraltar in this file photo from November 26, 2006.REUTERS/Anton Meres

This list is compiled by Travel + Leisure and not endorsed by Reuters (here


1. Paro Airport, Bhutan

Tucked into a tightly cropped valley and surrounded by 16,000-foot-high Himalayan peaks, Bhutan’s only airport is forbidding to fly into. It requires specially trained pilots to maneuver and land through a channel of tree-covered hillsides.

2. Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten

The length of the runway is just 7,152 feet which is fine for small or medium-size jets, but as the second-busiest airport in the Eastern Caribbean, it regularly welcomes wide-body jetliners like Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s which fly in low over Maho Beach and skim just over the perimeter fence.

3. Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C.

Located smack in the center of two overlapping air-exclusion zones, Reagan National requires pilots flying the so-called River Visual into the airport to follow the Potomac while steering clear of sensitive sites such as the Pentagon and CIA headquarters. On taking off, pilots need to climb quickly and execute a steep left bank to avoid flying over the White House.

4. Gibraltar Airport, Gibraltar

Pinched in by the Mediterranean on its eastern flank and the Bay of Algeciras on its western side, the airport’s truncated runway stretches just 6,000 feet and requires pinpoint precision.

5. Matekane Air Strip, Lesotho

The 1,312-foot-long runway is perched at the edge of a couloir at 7,550 feet. You drop down the face of a 2,000-foot cliff until you start flying. Says bush pilot Tom Claytor: “The rule in the mountains is that it is better to take off downwind and downhill than into wind and uphill, because in Lesotho, the hills will usually out-climb you.”

6. Barra Airport, Barra, Scotland

The airport on the tiny Outer Hebridean Island of Barra is actually a wide shallow bay onto which scheduled planes land with the roughness of landings determined by how the tide went out.

7. Toncontin Airport, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Having negotiated the rough-hewn mountainous terrain, pilots must execute a dramatic 45-degree, last-minute bank to the left just minutes prior to touching down in a bowl-shaped valley on a runway just 6,112 feet in length. The airport, at an altitude of 3,294 feet, can accommodate aircraft no larger than Boeing 757’s.

8. John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York

Pilots have to avoid interfering with flights into New York’s two other close-by airports, LaGuardia and Newark. Set up in 1964 as a noise-abatement measure, this approach forces pilots to have a reported 1,500-foot ceiling and a five-mile visibility before lining up with runway 13L and the waters of Jamaica Bay.

9. Madeira Airport, Funchal, Madeira

Slideshow (3 Images)

Wedged in by mountains and the Atlantic, Madeira Airport requires a clockwise approach for which pilots are specially trained. Despite a unique elevated extension that was completed back in 2000 and now expands the runway length to what should be a comfortable 9,000 feet, the approach to Runway 05 remains hair-raising. Pilots must first point their aircraft at the mountains and, at the last minute, bank right to the runway.

10. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba, Netherlands Antilles

Perched on a precipitous gale-battered peninsula on the island’s northeastern corner, the airport requires pilots to tackle blustery trade winds, occasional spindrift, and their own uneasy constitutions as they maneuver in for a perfect landing on a runway that’s just 1,300 feet long..

Editing by Miral Fahmy.

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