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Death-defying Airport Runways of the World

With the monotony of the pandemic, we all need a healthy dose of adrenaline in our lives. While planning our adventure holidays with sky-diving and bungee jumping on our to-do lists, why not up the quotient by beginning the thrill on a high, quite literally! Jet off from some of the most notoriously dangerous runways of the world, with varying terrain including ice, sand, steep cliffs, crowded beaches, and main roads. Runways, some less than half a mile long, where everything rests on the pilot’s precision and experienced shoulders. Hear your heart thud in your ears as you soar into the skies from some of the most awe-inspiring, remote, and death-defying airports of the world.

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01Navigating a 2000 feet deep valley at Tenzing Hillary Airport, Nepal

The aircraft on the runway of the Tenzing-Hillary airport Lukla - Nepal, Himalayas

Trekkers looking to reach Mount Everest base camp have to first brave the 9325 feet high Lukla airport. The 1700 feet long single-direction runway is narrow, sloped, and short. One end of the runway is a mountain wall, and the other end is a 2000 feet plunge into the abyss. To add to the pilot’s misery, it is essential to navigate high winds, cloudy skies, and often failed electricity at the airport, which hampers communication with air controllers during landing.

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02Beating the tides at Barra Airport, Scotland

Airplane Landing on Beach Barra Scotland RoryMN / Getty Images

Possibly the only airport in the world whose runway is actually a beach, Barra airport is a pilot’s nightmare. Being only five feet above sea level, this dangerous runway is completely submerged during high tide. Oftentimes, cars in the parking lot are expected to turn on their lights to assist pilots in landing safely in dire situations. Don’t shy away from this experience, though. Having started operations in 1933, this strip has seen many safe landings and is also a recognized international airport by the Air Traffic Organization!

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03Ensuring a smooth landing on ice at McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Galaxy aircraft lands on the ice runway near McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze ''90. The Galaxy is the first such aircraft to land on the runway, which is over 10,000 feet long and was scraped from ice over eight feet deep. USAF / Getty Images

One of three runways serving Antarctica, this main airport has ample runway space. However, the tricky bit for the pilot is to navigate freezing weather conditions, ensuring that the weight of the carrier doesn’t crack the six-foot thick icy runway. This military base is perpetually dark in the long winter months, and pilots are trained to use night vision goggles and even land blind if needed.

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04Skimming the heads of beachgoers at Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten

A Delta Air Lines plane flying low over the famous Maho beach as it comes in to land at Princess Juliana International Airport. Gemma Fletcher / Shutterstock.com

Popularly known as the most Instagrammable airport in the world, this runway is situated just after the Maho public beach. With a much shorter runway than ideal, planes have to approach the beach at a very low altitude, which appears to be mere feet above the beach goers’ heads. Despite several dangerous incidents in the past, it continues to be one of the busiest airports in the Caribbean.

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05Negotiating the jagged terrain at Saba Airport, Dutch Caribbean

The sheer terrain of this airport makes it highly unpopular and therefore highly unpopulated. The Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport at Saba is one of the world’s shortest commercial airport runways. At 1300 feet long, only experienced pilots are allowed to fly in the zone. The approach is along the jagged mountainside and a sharp left before an immediate landing where the cliffs then drop into the sea.

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06Traversing gusty winds at Wellington International Airport, New Zealand

Big shadow of an aeroplane arriving at Wellington airport, New Zealand.

This is another very busy airport serving the country despite its extremely tricky one-lane, 6350 feet runway, which appears to begin and end in the sea. After Auckland and Christchurch, it is New Zealand’s third busiest airport. Turbulent landings are a given with the strong winds prevalent through the mountains and the pressure gradient through the Cook Strait.

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07Steering through icebergs at Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland

Narsarsuaq unusual airport runway location in Greenland. Airstrip is empty. Aerial view of the runway. HRAUN / Getty Images

With a 6000 feet runway often covered in smooth ice, airplanes have to fly through a fjord before navigating a 90-degree turn to face the runway. Massive gusty winds, fog, and icebergs drifting into the flight’s path can cause low visibility and flight turbulence. Throw on the added fear of the neighboring volcano erupting and producing blinding ash that stalls the plane engines and destroys them, and you got yourself one of the most dangerous airports of all time!

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08Timing the busy main road-runway at Gibraltar International Airport

Gibraltar airport and The Rock taken from Gibraltar international Airport, Gibraltar on 29 September 2015 Nigel Jarvis / Shutterstock.com

Despite numerous dangers to tackle, this airport has not had a major accident to date. With a relatively long 5500 feet runway, it may seem fear-free at first. But this runway ends at the sea on either end, compelling pilots to apply the brakes as soon as they land. To top it off, Gibraltar’s main street, Winston Churchill Avenue, runs through the runway, and the road has to be closed at both ends during a flight landing in order to avoid a major disaster.

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09Combating the slippery runway of Congonhas Airport, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Airplane departure Sao Paulo - Congonhas Airport, cgh, Brazil. Herbert Pictures / Getty Images

This short runway is located in a massively populated part of the city, and planes appear to be scraping the tops of tall buildings on landing. The Congonhas Airport is possibly the slipperiest one in the world as its runway does not have the correct grooves to drain away excess rainwater. This dangerous airport has had several crashes, including the fatal 2007 incident when an Airbus overran the runway and crashed into a nearby warehouse.

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10Tackling the dark winters at Svalbard Airport, Norway

Arctic airport, airplane and passengers on a icy runway Tetyana Dotsenko / Shutterstock.com

This 8,000 feet runway is built on permafrost and insulated against the ground to avoid it melting in the summer. Owing to the lack of runway lights, planes are allowed to fly only during daylight, thus hindering flights during the winter when the sun doesn’t rise. Turbulent weather can hamper visibility. This is another dangerous airport that has seen several fatal disasters over time.

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