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The World's Most Dangerous Airports — and Why You Should Fly There Anyway

Flying Safely
Allianz - Flying Safely

If you're someone who white-knuckles even the most gentle descent, stop reading right now. Here's a nice, calming article on foodie vacations.

But if you're a traveler who won't let a perilous landing deter you from an unforgettable trip, here's a list of some of the world's most dangerous airports. Hang on - here we go!

Princess Juliana International Airport

That's not a seagull. It's a jetliner — and it's coming in right over your head. But don't be alarmed if you're sunbathing in St. Maarten and you see a plane heading toward you. The short runway requires planes to come in low over the water, just barely clearing the fence before landing. Tourists love filming the planes, and some even purposefully stand where the jet engines blow them into the ocean . We don't recommend this.

Why you should go anyway: White beaches, wildlife and French-Caribbean-Dutch culture.

Congonhas Airport

Modern airports are built well away from city centers, but some of the world's older airports have become surrounded by buildings. Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil was built in the 1930s, and the airfield is now a thin strip of green surrounded by high-rises. This video shows an airplane descending into what looks like a sea of apartment buildings, the runway barely visible.

Why you should go anyway: Amazing architecture and art, as well as glittering nightlife.

Gibraltar Airport

There isn't much flat land in Gibraltar, a tiny British territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. That's why the single runway at the Gibraltar Airport crosses Winston Churchill Avenue, a major four-lane road. Several times a day, traffic is halted so that jets can roll across the road as they land. While the typical wait is 10 minutes, increasing air traffic has closed the road for as long as two hours on some occasions. Plans to reroute the road under the runway were announced in 2007, but as of late 2014 the project hadn't been finished.1 The upside is that there's no need to rent a car if you're flying into Gibraltar. Just walk outside the airport and you're in the city center.

Why you should go anyway: The famous rock and the Barbary Apes.

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport

The small Caribbean island of Saba in the Netherlands Antilles is visited by few tourists, primarily because it has no beaches. Saba's Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport also has the world's shortest commercial runway: a 1,312-foot strip on a rocky promontory.2 Small planes arriving from St. Maarten must maneuver over a small cliff and then decelerate quickly before they run out of runway. It's exciting, if you're not aboard; Jaunted reports that the airport hosts some of the island's best parties.

Why you should go anyway: Unspoiled beauty and stunning soft-coral dive sites.

Toncontín International Airport

Surrounded by mountains, this high-altitude airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras requires planes to turn sharply and battle gusts of wind before coming in to land on a short runway. In 2008, TACA Flight 390 overran the runway and rolled onto a street, killing five people.3 The cause of the crash was determined to be pilot error, but the runway has since been extended.4 Read this post on Jalopnik to see jets landing from an onlooker's and a pilot's perspective.

Why you should go anyway: Beautiful old churches and Parque Nacional La Tigra.

Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport

Thousands of tourists fly in and out of Cusco, Peru each year on their way to visit the legendary Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, a World Heritage Site nestled in the Andes. But flights in and out of Cusco are constantly delayed because cloud cover or bad weather makes landing on the perilous runway almost impossible. With a 14,300-foot mountain at the western end of the runway, planes can only take off to the east.5

Why you should go anyway: The mysterious ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Tipon and other Incan sites.

Tenzing-Hillary Airport

The Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, Nepal, is often called the scariest airport in the world. There's no control tower. There's no radar. There's just a short, steep runway that ends in a 9,200-foot cliff.6 Why does anyone risk it? Lukla's where the trail to Mount Everest begins. Climbers can fly to Lukla in 45 minutes from the capital of Kathmandu, or they can hike there in five days. Most choose to fly, even though the last 10 years have seen five separate crashes.Watch planes taking off and landing from Lukla here.

Why you should go anyway: Majestic Everest and Himalayan trekking.

Paro Airport

Surrounded by mountains and small houses, Paro Airport in Bhutan is known as one of the world's most dangerous airports. The descent is so challenging only a handful of pilots are qualified to attempt it.8 One tells BBC he's "absolutely flying with the eyes only" as he lands — no instruments are used. Because visual flight rules are required, no planes can take off or land at night or on cloudy days.9

Why you should go anyway: Ancient temples and monasteries clinging to cliffs.

JFK Airport

Think that the worst airports for takeoffs and landings are all in remote places? JFK Airport in New York City is infamous for the difficulty of landing on runway 13L. With 10,000 feet of runway, length isn't the problem; it's maneuvering around all the other air traffic to successfully approach the runway, without running into Jamaica Bay.10 11

Why you should go anyway: It's New York City.

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Nov 14, 2016