Statistics from 2013 say that there were 41,821 airports worldwide, while today the number is probably even higher. We have all heard of JFK, Heathrow, Charles De Gaulle, LAX and the like, but did you know that there is an airport that runs on solar energy, or one that leads straight to jail. Or, do you know which one has the shortest runway, which one is the most dangerous and which one has a sand-runway? Well, we are about to share this info with you so go on, read our list of the world’s most unique airports.
Princess Juliana International Airport – Saint Martin
Located on the Dutch side of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, in the country of Sint Maarten, the Princess Juliana International Airport is a hub for Windward Islands Airways. It was named after Princess Juliana of the Netherlands who landed there in 1944, a year after it was opened. What it’s unique for is the fact that the runway – actually, one of its ends – is extremely close to the shore and Maho beach. This causes a very low-altitude flyover landing approaches and it’s what made it famous. This means that you can stand on the beach and see the passengers from inside the plane only a couple of feet away from you.
This is what we mean:
Ice Runway – Antarctica
The name itself should prove to you how special this airport is. The Ice Runway is actually an airport for the US Antarctic Program because it’s close to McMurdo Station. It can take some wheeled aircrafts, such as Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and some others. It’s principally used during the summer Antarctic season – it gets constructed at the beginning of the season and is used until early December when the ice starts to break out and it’s no longer safe. The pilots who have been using say that it’s stable and not so much different from landing on concrete.
Paro Airport – Bhutan
There is a very good reason behind the fact that only six pilots in the world are allowed landing at Paro Airport. The only international airport in Bhutan is considered one of the most challenging airports in the world because it requires the pilot to navigate through 2 narrow valleys before he does a turn and gets the plane parallel to the airstrip in a really short period of time. This requires great skill from the pilot and not everyone has it, obviously. Also, to prevent accidents, flights to Paro Airport are allowed only under visual meteorological conditions and only during daytime.
Gibraltar International Airport
While we’re talking about dramatic landings, we should also mention the Gibraltar International Airport. This one is the fifth on “Most Extreme Airports” list and for a good reason: the Winston Churchill Avenue intersects the airport runway, which means it has to be closed every time there is a landing scheduled. That’s why there’s only around 20 weekly flights arriving at the airport – or else the whole point of the avenue would be lost. Although, we have to say, maybe there could have been a better place to put the avenue… or the airport… don’t you think?
Federal Transfer Center – USA
The US Federal Transfer Center is located in Oklahoma City and it’s primarily a prison facility for male and female inmates of Oklahoma. It’s also an airport, which serves as a hub of the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System, popularly called Con Air. The airplanes land right in front of the two built-in gates that are directly connected to the prison itself. This is its sole purpose – transferring prisoners in or out of the Federal Transfer Center – which makes it pretty unique, right?
Tenzing-Hillary Airport – Nepal
A TV show called “Most Extreme Airports” that was broadcasted by The History Channel in 2010 named the Tenzing-Hillary Airport the most dangerous one in the world. It’s also known as Lukla Airport because it’s located in the town of Lukla in eastern Nepal. If you decided to go climb Mount Everest, this town would be a great place to start, which is why the airport is frequently visited. It’s 9,000 feet high and has a 1,500 foot long runway with a 12% gradient from north to south. Not only that, but the winds are strong and visibility can change from great to awful in minutes – which is why landing is scary for both passengers and pilots.
Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport – India
One of the highest airports in the world is situated in Leh, India. It got its name from Venerable Kushok Bakula Rimpochee, whose 19th incarnation was an important Indian statesman. The flights from Leh have a very high level of security. There is a lot of Indian police around and many strict rules considering your baggage. Also, since there are strong mountain winds in this area, the only time planes are allowed to land and take off are in the morning – and you have to be there at least 2 hours earlier to follow all the security rules.
Juancho E Yrausquin Airport – Saba
This is the second airport on our list that is situated in the Caribbean islands – this time it’s the island named Saba. Seems like the people of Caribbean like danger, because Juancho E Yrausquin Airport actually has the shortest runway in the world – only 1,300 feet long – and if the pilot isn’t good enough, the plane may end up in the Caribbean sea, since it is on both ends of the runway. It’s not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure. Jet airplanes aren’t allowed to land here because of, well, the obvious.
How would you feel if you had to do this?
The Black Rock City Municipal Airport – Nevada, USA
There is a special airport situated in the Nevada desert – one that only works a week per year. It’s the Black Rock City Municipal Airport and it only exists for the purpose of hosting airplanes for the participants of a manifestation called “Burning man”, but it has everything an airport should have, including a terminal building, charter service and fuel depot. The thing is, it is also a very dangerous airport due to harsh weather conditions – in the few months it has been working so far, there have been around 2000 accidents!
Barra airport – Scotland
This one is really, really unique – it has a beach for a runway. Yep, that’s right. The scheduled flights land on one of the three runways that found their place on a beach – as long as the tide is not high. All the flights at the Barra airport are arranged according to the tide – Scotland really is inventive, you have to admit. Believe it or not, around 10,000 passengers actually take off and land at a cockleshell beach every year. If you feel like going to the beach to pick some cockles, take a look at the windsock to find out whether the runway is in operation or you can go safely…
Hechi Airport – China
To build this airport that has a 1,4 mile-long and 150 feet-wide runway with a 1,000ft sheer drop on one side, the Chinese engineers had to level off the mountain tops of 65 mountains! The total construction cost around $136 million, and what they got is Hechi Airport, 2,200 feet above sea level. The runway of this airport is so narrow that only three flights can land/take off in an hour. But it really looks stunning, don’t you think. Just imagine landing there. The only question is: where you go from here?
Toncontin International Airport – Honduras
Well, with the Toncontin International Airport, you just can’t tell which is worse: the short runway, wind gusts caused by high altitude or the mountains all around. One of its runways, “02”, is one of the shortest commercial jets runways in the world. Because pilots have to make a really sharp turn really quickly, so they can line up with the runway, it was rated second most extreme airport by “Most Extreme Airports”. Most pilots manage to do it, but the runways have seen their share of accidents, which is why the airport received a runway extension in 2009.
Here’s how an experienced pilot did it…
Madeira Airport – Portugal
The History Channel named this one 9th most dangerous in the world and 3rd most dangerous in Europe. Before getting remodeled, Madeira Airport in Portugal was known for one of the shortest and most narrow runways in the world, which forced pilots to make a quick turn to be able to land at all. Unfortunately, this resulted in a big crash in 1977 when 131 were killed, and that’s when they decided that something needed to be done. Their solution earned them the Outstanding Structure Award in 2004 but, it’s still considered very dangerous.
John Travolta’s Airport Home – Florida, USA
Believe it or not, this actor has an airplane inside his property in Ocala, Florida. Building this house cost around $12 million – small price if you think of the fact that he can actually land a plane there. Travolta is a passionate aviator and, well, he can afford to keep his planes (!) close to his heart – literally. So, if you get invited to his house, be sure to get there two hours ahead, for all the security checks and everything…
Gisborne Airport – New Zealand
Remember the Gibraltar International Airport and the avenue intersecting it. Well, it seems that people in New Zealand liked this concept and decided to do the same thing. Or it was the other way round. Anyhow, they didn’t entirely do the same thing: Gisborne Airport is intersected by a railway. Not only that – the runway and the railway work at the same time, and oftentimes it happens that one has to stop and let the other one through. Can you imagine just getting ready for landing when you look out the window and see a train moving in front of it? Why not, it’s a completely normal thing in New Zealand…
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport: The Airport With Graves – Georgia, USA
Just when you thought you saw it all, we bring you an airport with graves! There is actually a nice story behind the fact that two graves are embedded into the tarmac of Runway 10 of Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Savannah, Georgia. It turns out that the previous owners of the property that is now an airport, Catherine and Richard Dotsons used that exact spot (and some space around it) as a cemetery. So, when they died, they demanded to be buried there. In World War II, when this was turned into a training airport, all the bodies from the cemetery were moved, but they left the markers of these two graves to honor the previous owners. How sweet…
Cochin International Airport – India
The last airport on our list brings innovation to the aircraft world: solar panels. The Cochin International Airport in India is the first one in the world to run on solar energy. Powered by 12 MWp solar power plant, a total of 46,150 solar panels are laid across 45 acres near the cargo complex. And it works very well – last year it was the fourth busiest airport in India! Just this August it officially started running completely on solar panels and India couldn’t be more proud… As they should be.
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