5 of the World's Shortest Runways

Don't blink or you'll miss the landing

Muriel Vega (@murielvega) Travel (November 9, 2015)

Most of us worry about whether we remembered our passports or whether the plane will take off on time, but we rarely think about the airport we'll be landing on once we arrive at our destination.

Most airports are equipped with standard runways (around 10,000 feet) to host every size plane imaginable, but some airports just don't have the space or terrain. And as if short runways weren't challenging enough, the shortest runways in the world are often nestled in between mountains or covered in ice or are wracked by gusting winds. So buckle your seat belt for this ride — most of the following runways stretch less than 6,000 feet.

Scroll to the end for tips on staying safe on a plane no matter where you'll be landing.

1. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport in Saba

Saba airport Saba airport Photo: Fyodor Borisov/Wikipedia

The runway at Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport in Saba runs a mere 1,300 feet, making it one of the world's shortest. It's perched on a mountainous peninsula, and the penalty for not landing right the first time is a steep drop off into the ocean or a go around the island. The wind conditions can be extreme and only a chosen few — pilots flying small charter planes with Winair — can land there.

2. Princess Juliana International Airport in Saint Maarten

Princess Juliana International Airport Princess Juliana International Airport Photo: Lawrence Lansing/Wikipedia

The 7,659-feet runway on Saint Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport is a comfy length for small and medium-size airplanes — which is why the larger jetliners come in just above the heads of onlookers at Maho Beach, often stopping just short of the perimeter fence. Hold on to your drink and hat as they buzz by. You can view the close landing here.

3. Courchevel Airport in France

Courchevel Airport Courchevel Airport Photo: Hugues Mitton/Wikipedia

The mountaintop runway at Courchevel Airport in France, nestled in the French Alps and the highest asphalted runaway in Europe at an altitude of 6,853 feet, is just over 1,700 feet long. It has a gradient of 18.6 percent and a gut-wrenching vertical drop at the end. To boot, the small airport, part of the Les Trois Vallées ski resort, is often covered in snow and ice. As there's no go-around procedure, pilots on private aircraft require a rigorous training before being allowed to land here.

4. Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Nepal

Tenzing Hillary Airport Tenzing Hillary Airport Photo: Alex Smith/Flickr

The History Channel rated this Nepal airport as the most dangerous airport in the world. Named after the first people to reach the Mt. Everest summit, the 1,500-feet runway, surrounded by mountains, is on a steep hill that abruptly drops off to a river valley below. With a 12 percent grade, there's no turnaround and pilots can only land during the day time, weather permitting.

5. Toncontín Airport in Honduras

honduras airport honduras airport Photo: enrique galeano morales /Wikipedia

Located about three miles outside of downtown Tegucigalpa, the Toncontín Airport in Honduras has one of the world's shortest runways at 6,601 feet. The mountainous surrounding, strong winds and short runway make it tricky for pilots to land large commercial airlines. The landing often requires a fast descent and a quick turn in order for the plane to align with the runway. The History Channel named it one of the most dangerous airport approaches in the world.

6. Staying safe in the event of a crash landing

airplane cabin airplane cabin Photo: gyn9037/Shutterstock

Did you know 95 percent of passengers and crew live through airplane crashes, according to the National Transportation Safety Board? While the chances of your plane crashing are extremely slim, keep the following safety tips in mind no matter how large or small the runway you'll be landing on.

  • Keep your shoes on. In the event of a crash, there might be dangerous debris scattered around the cabin or around the landing site. Keep your shoes on during the flight to save time and protect your tootsies in case you need to make a quick exit. Fly with comfortable, closed-toe shoes, advises Jon Beatty, President and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation.
  • While most experts say there's no safest seat on the plane, for an easier exit you might want to choose an aisle seat close to an exit, according to Ed Galea, director of the Fire Safety Engineering Group at the University of Greenwich, in England.
  • Know exactly where you're sitting. Before take-off, count the rows to the nearest exit in case the cabin fills ups with smoke.
  • Know how to brace for impact. Read up on the safety instructions in the seat pocket for the correct position to take in case of a crash landing.The details actually matter.
  • If the plane crashes, don't hesitate. Leave your luggage behind and exit the plane as quickly as you can.

Related: How to Survive a Plane Crash


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