(CNN) — When an airport was built on the mid-Atlantic island of St. Helena (above), it was first called the “world’s most useless” airport. That’s because the wind shear on the cliffside runway initially made it dangerous to land.
Today the airport is up and running, but it is a category C, meaning pilots have to be specially trained to get there. That’s not all — here are some of the most remarkable (but also terrifying) airports around the world.
Madeira is known for bumpy landings — which averages love to watch.
Octavio Passos/Getty Images
Those who vacation in Madeira know that the island is notorious for difficult landings — and sometimes even no landing at all. The airport’s proximity to high ground means turbulence and wind shear — sometimes severe — on the last resort. The runway ends at the edge of the cliff on either side — but thankfully it’s low, with the road below it. Avgeeks love Madeira so much that the airport built a platform next to the runway to watch the pilots give it their best shot.
Flights to Leh are scheduled only in the morning.
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 buffeted by strong afternoon winds, meaning flights are limited to mornings only. Wide and heavy planes are not allowed, and all pilots who land on them receive special training.
Beachgoers get an amazing view of planes landing in Sint Maarten.
Philipp Laage/picture alliance/Getty Images
You don’t have to be an avgeek to watch videos of planes landing in Sint Maarten — social media is full of footage of jets landing at Caribbean airports. That’s because the runway backs directly onto a beach, meaning planes come in to land overhead. While it sounds like fun, it’s dangerous stuff — in 2017, a woman died in a jet engine explosion while she was hanging from an airport fence with other swimsuit-clad tourists. For those on board, takeoff is slightly scarier than landing — because you’re heading straight for the mountain that rises behind the airport.
Airplanes can only land during the day in Paro.
Cantilevered 7,364 feet above sea level, Paro is Bhutan’s only international airport — but few pilots ever land there, making the approach tricky. Landings are only allowed in good visibility conditions (for starters, daylight) because there is no radar, so planes must make a manual approach. They must also weave between hills and over houses before turning onto the runway.
London City, UK
Planes dip around Canary Wharf before quickly landing in London City.
David Goddard/Getty Images
Flying right over a capital city on the way to landing is a strange feeling these days, but landing in London City will take you around the skyscrapers of the City of London, around Canary Wharf, and land at a very steep angle there is the feeling of being in a helicopter. Leaving is equally empowering.
Reagan National Airport, USA
Airplanes fly over the DC skyline when landing at Ronald Reagan airport.
Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images
In June 2021, when a Frontier Airlines plane skidded off the runway at DC’s Ronald Reagan airport, a passenger described it as “pretty scary.” But you don’t have to be involved in an incident to get the creeps here — sharp planes turning near the Potomac River to line up on the runway, and avoiding no-fly zones throughout the city, make it a tricky one. for pilots.
Landing in Innsbruck was more difficult than it seemed to the passengers.
Embraced by the mountains, Tyrol’s capital is a top destination for skiing — and a great flight. Or rather, the views are. The challenge for the pilots is wonderful in another way. Airplanes must descend to nearly 8,000-foot peaks, deal with wind shear coming off the mountains, and, depending on wind direction, may even have to descend heavily to maneuver into a position to land in the valley.
Congonhas sits right in the heart of São Paulo.
São Paulo’s domestic airport used to have a drainage problem — one so bad it caused a fatal accident in 2007. The runway was subsequently resurfaced to correct the problem, but landing here is still pretty hairy . Just a few miles from downtown — which in São Paulo means it’s still in the heart of the city — the single runway, which dates back to the 1930s, is surrounded by urban sprawl, meaning you fly through apartment blocks and rooftop until the last moment.
With its short runway and dangerous drop at the end, Lukla is well known.
Mountains, wind shear and a short runway — Lukla has it all. Often called the world’s most dangerous airport, the gateway to Everest, in the mountains of Nepal, lays its runway on the edge of a cliff between the mountains — just 1,729 feet of it — dropping straight down a cliff at end. To help the planes slow down, it is even tilted upwards. There’s no scope for goarounds, either — if a plane is on final descent, it has to land. However, the mountain views are incredible on the way down.
St. made headlines. Helena airport when it discovered that wind shear at its clifftop location made it difficult for planes to land.
You will likely be in for a wild ride to get to St. Helena. Wind shear paired with a cliffside airport means planes are given a good buffeting as they land. Feast your eyes on the views of Longwood plain, where Napoleon was exiled, and of the small capital of Jamestown, built in a canyon crack with a single harbor. Originally planned only for small aircraft, the runway was expanded to accommodate a 757.