My boss looked as pale as a ghost.
A tiny drop of sweat started forming on his forehead, and the eyes showed absolute terror, as he saw the end of his life approaching at fast speed.
He grabbed the seat until his fingers hurt, waiting for the moment. Waiting for the end of it all. For the plane to crash.
But it didn’t.
That’s why, a few months later, he got to tell me his experience landing at Madeira airport, in Portugal, on a day of particularly bad weather.
My boss was a businessman. He flew almost every week, short and long haul. He was not afraid of flying, but this experience was one of the scariest of his life. No wonder, he was flying to one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
Madeira Airport, Portugal
Even though Madeira is a very popular touristic destination, the airport of this Portuguese island is quite a dangerous one. The runway almost doubled in 2000 to 2780m but this expansion was built on a platform supported by 180 columns, which are set on the ocean.
Plus, the meteorological conditions are tricky, with regular strong winds that make landing here a task that can only be performed by specially trained pilots.
Lukla Airport, Nepal
This airport serves as the main landing spot for those visiting Mt. Everest. But if climbing Everest is hard, the arrival at the airport is not much easier. The runway is one of the shortest in the world and lays nestled between the mountains.
To make things worse, electricity on-site is poor, making it hard for pilots to contact air controllers and, sometimes, planes have to land even without assistance.
Courchevel International Airport, France
This airport gathers a series of conditions that make any successful landing or take-off almost a miracle. The difficulties start even before arriving at the airport, as pilots must fly through a narrow valley in the Alps to prepare for descent.
The runway is one of the shortest in the world, at only 525 meters, and it has a downward gradient of 18,5%, making take off even harder than landing. And if the pilot doesn’t manage it… well, the airport drops off into a cliff, so there is not really room for unsuccessful maneuvers.
Toncontin Airport, Honduras
This airport, serving the capital of Honduras, is located in a valley 1000 meters above sea level. As with any mountain airport, it is not an easy place neither for landing nor take-off.
Pilots must make a sharp 45-degree turn amidst mountains, making sure the underside of the plane doesn’t scrape the land below. Passengers experience a quick drop in altitude which can cause eardrums to pop.
Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten
This airport is probably most famous for having a beach located at the end of the runway, which creates large and loud gusts of wind and sand for the people on the beach.
But the real challenge of this airport is not the beach but rather the size of its runway, at 2,179 meters. While this might not seem too short, it is a big challenge for most aircrafts landing here, considering that they need at least 2,500 meters.
This is because the airport was built for short airplanes but, due to the growth in tourism in the country, bigger planes started flying there regularly.
Paro Airport in Bhutan, Himalayan Mountains
This airport is so dangerous that only a handful of pilots are qualified to land here. Surrounded by 5,500-meter mountain peaks, the Paro Airport runway is only 1981 meters long and it is completely out of sight to the pilots until the last minute, when they are forced to fly at a 45-degree angle before dropping quickly onto the runway.
Because of the extreme conditions, landings are only authorized in daylight hours and under excellent meteorological conditions.
Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland
To start off, the airport runway is frequently covered in ice, making any landing slick. Then, the strong winds and stormy weather make the job harder. And the nearby volcano erupts quite often, expelling ash that can damage the engines of the aircrafts landing and taking off here.
Gibraltar International, Gibraltar
While this airport is not particularly hard to land on, it has a characteristic that makes it unique. The city’s main road intersects the airport runway and the traffic has to stop every time a plane lands.
There is a stoplight on the road, but a few disasters have been on the cusp of happening already. Plus, the 1676 meters runway has water on both ends.
McMurdo Air Station, Antarctica
The U.S. Antarctic station makes it to this list mainly due to weather conditions. The airport runway is long enough but always covered in ice, which can cause airplanes to drift if the landing is not perfect.
Temperatures are always negative and during many months of the year, it is dark continuously, so pilots are trained to land using night vision goggles.
Barra International Airport, Scotland
Located on the island of Barra, in Scotland, this airport is only five meters above sea level. This means that, whenever the tide is high, all three runways are underwater. Therefore, flights can only land at certain times.