(CNN) — When an airport was built on the mid-Atlantic island of St Helena (above), it was initially referred to as the “most useless” airport in the world. That’s because wind shear on the cliff-side runway initially made it dangerous to land.
Today the airport is in use, but it is a category C, meaning pilots must be specially trained to land there. It’s not the only one — here are some of the most breathtaking (but also terrifying) airports around the world.
Madeira is notorious for its bumpy landings – which average people like to see.
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Those who go on holiday to Madeira know that the island is notorious for difficult landings – and sometimes no landings at all. The airport’s proximity to high ground means turbulence and wind shear – sometimes severe – on final approach. The runway ends on either side of the cliff – but luckily it’s a low one, with a road below. Avgeeks love Madeira so much that the airport has built a platform next to the runway to watch pilots give their best.
Flights to Leh are scheduled for mornings only.
The 23rd highest airport in the world doesn’t sound too high… until you realize that Leh Airport is 10,682 feet above sea level. Surrounded by mountains, with a short runway, it is ravaged by high winds in the afternoon, meaning flights are limited to mornings only. Widebody and heavy aircraft are not allowed, and all pilots landing here receive special training.
Beachgoers get a fantastic view of planes landing on Sint Maarten.
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You don’t have to be an average person to have seen videos of planes landing in St. Maarten — social media is full of footage of jets landing at the Caribbean airport. That’s because the runway opens right onto a beach, meaning planes land right over your head. While it may seem fun, it’s dangerous: In 2017, a woman was killed by a jet engine explosion while hanging from the airport fence with other tourists in swimsuits. For those on board, takeoff is a little scarier than landing – as you travel straight up the mountain that rises behind the airport.
Planes can only land on Paro during the day.
Cantilevered 7,364 feet above sea level, Paro is Bhutan’s only international airport — yet few pilots have permission to land there, so tricky is the approach. Landings are only allowed in good visibility (daylight to start) as there is no radar, so planes have to make a manual approach. They also have to weave between hills and over houses before hitting the runway.
London City, UK
Planes dive around Canary Wharf before landing sharply in London City.
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Flying right over a capital city to land is an uncommon feeling these days, but as you descend into London City, you plunge around the skyscrapers of the City of London, shore around Canary Wharf and land at such a steep angle that you feel in a helicopter. Taking off is equally stimulating.
Reagan National Airport, USA
Planes skim the DC skyline as they land at Ronald Reagan’s airport.
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In June 2021, when a Frontier Airlines plane skidded off the runway at DC’s Ronald Reagan Airport, a passenger described it as “a little scary.” But you don’t have to be involved in an incident to get the jitters here — the sharp turns planes make near the Potomac River to align with the runway, and dodge no-fly zone in the city. , make this a tricky one for pilots.
Landing at Innsbruck is harder than it looks for passengers.
Surrounded by mountains, the capital of Tyrol is a top destination for skiing – and a beautiful flight inwards. Or rather, the views are. The challenge for pilots is wonderful in a different way. Planes have to dive over a peak of nearly 8,000 feet, deal with wind shear shearing off the mountains, and, depending on the direction of the wind, may even have to lean sharply to maneuver into position to land in the valley.
Congonhas is located in the middle of Sao Paulo.
São Paulo’s domestic airport used to have a drainage problem – a problem so serious that it caused a fatal accident in 2007. After that, the runway was rebuilt to correct the problem, but landing here can still feel quite hairy. Just a few miles from downtown — which in São Paulo means it’s still in the middle of the city — the single runway, which debuted in the 1930s, is surrounded by urban sprawl, meaning you’ll fly over condominiums and rooftops until the last moment.
With his short runway and a dangerous fall at the end, Lukla is notorious.
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Mountains, wind shear and a short runway – Lukla has it all. Often called the most dangerous airport in the world, the gateway to Everest, in the mountains of Nepal, has its runway on a cliff between mountains — just 1,729 feet of them — that plunges straight into a chasm at the end. To help slow down planes, it’s even angled up. There is also no room for go-around – if a plane is on the last descent, it has to land. Still, the mountain views on the way down are incredible.
The St. Helena Airport made headlines when it was discovered that wind shear at the cliffside location made it difficult for planes to land.
You will likely face a bumpy ride upon landing at St. Helena. Wind shear combined with a cliffside airport means that the planes take a big hit as they come in to land. Set your eyes on the view of the Longwood Plain, where Napoleon was exiled, and of the small capital of Jamestown, built in a gorge with a single harbor. Originally planned only for small aircraft, the runway was extended to accommodate a 757.