7 of the most challenging airports around the world for airline pilots to take off and land at
19.09.2023 - 09:30
Sometimes, it's okay to clap when a plane lands.
Despite the common fear of flying, air travel is the safest mode of transportation with tens of thousands of planes journeying across the globe every day, and the odds of being in a major commercial accident are extremely low — about one in six million, according to the International Air Transport Association's 2022 safety report.
In fact, the report revealed there were just five fatal accidents among 32.2 million commercial flights in 2022. The impressive record is thanks to a heightened focus on aviation safety over the decades.
Airport design and geography, in particular, are major factors in how risky an aircraft operation is. Most passenger airports have robust infrastructure like visual aids and alerts that keep pilots aware of what's going on in and around the airfield.
Runways are usually paved with clear taxi and hold instructions — albeit recent near-misses in the US suggest there is still work to be done when it comes to airport safety.
However, there are some places that have such minimal technology and are so dangerous to take off and land at that only a handful of aviators are trusted to fly in the rough conditions — and their skill may deserve a round of applause.
Here are eight of the most challenging airports in the world to operate an airplane.
Barra Airport is located on a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland in an area known as The Isles of Barra and Vatersay. Due to the remote territory and low demand, the airport only has a control tower and a small terminal but there is no space for an actual runway.
Instead, airplanes land on three triangle sand strips located along the water at Traigh Mhor, allowing planes to land in any direction depending on the winds.
Barra Airport is actually the only airport with scheduled flights where planes land on sand — but it makes flying there extremely difficult.
According to Forbes, the runways are only five feet above sea level and completely vanish at high tide, so pilots must be alert to unexpected weather and changing tide conditions.
Fortunately for pilots and passengers, the airport has safety procedures to help tackle the unusual terrain.
In July, Barra Airport flight information officer Joyce Beverstock told CNN that there are "beach inspections" before every flight and security patrols that keep people from venturing out onto the runways.
Loganair is the only airline that regularly serves Barra, with flights from Glasgow, Scotland, using the rugged de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, a Canadian-made aircraft specially designed for challenging terrain and short runways.
Bhutan's Paro International Airport is one of the most geographically complicated airports in the world.