The late novelist G.B. Ballard said “The great airports are already suburbs of an invisible world capital”. And it is true, in this age of travel, we are all so used to passing these huge cavernous airport terminals, walking through the brightly lit duty free shops, and eating in the horribly overpriced cafes and restaurants, that the entire experience of being in the airport has become a second nature.
The whole process of flying has become monotonous, and after passing through several seemingly identical gigantic terminals, the whole wonder of flying becomes dulled. It becomes a slightly unpleasant chore that you know you have to do to get away on your holidays. How often have you been sat on a runway, complaining about the hardship of being delayed for half an hour, while forgetting you are about to be transported half way around the world in just a matter of hours?
However, there are still some airports that are so strange, improbable, beautiful, impressive, or downright terrifying that you suddenly realize what an advance, an achievement, and a privilege it is to be able to visit these far away and inaccessible lands. Here is a list of nine truly amazing airports that are sure to put the wonder and thrill back into flying, and make the journey a valid part of the holiday experience once more.
1 - Princess Juliana Airport, Saint Martin
This airport in on the small Caribbean island of Saint Martin has one of the most exhilarating – or terrifying – landings in the world. Planes must first fly over a tiny strip of highly populatedbeach, keep high enough to clear a sizable fence and finally pass just feet over a road before they can finally land on the runway.Picture 2 of 18
One of the tricks for pilots navigating this landing is to make sure there are no large semi-trucks passing while the plane comes in. Not only could it become an obstacle to be avoided, the blast from the jets could conceivably knock the truck flying. Another tricky aspect is the length of the runway, which at 7,152 feet is regularly called upon to take long-haul jets like Boeing 747’s and Airbus A340’s, the sight of which flying in unimaginably low over the beach is really quite something.
2 - Lukla Airport, Nepal
The tiny Lukla Airport in Nepal is widely known as being the most dangerous airport in the world. The runway is 460 meters long, and if that were not enough it is built on a slope with a 9,200ft sheer cliff at one end and a stone wall and a hairpin turn at the other.The airportis not equipped with any radar or navigation devices; so the pilot can only go on what they can see with their bare eyes from the plane's cockpit.Picture 3 of 18
Accidents are all too commonplace and the number of accidents has passed into double figures since the 1970`s. The worst accident so far was the October 2008 flight, when an aircraft crashed on final approach killing eighteen passengers and crew. The airport will be closed down in fierce winds, but with weather in the mountains changing so rapidly, it might be too late to stop an already airborne flight from making its approach.
3 - Toncontín International Airport, Honduras
Set just 6 km (3.72 miles) from thecity center, Tegucigalpa isconsideredto be one of the most difficult and dangerous landings for large commercial airliners in the world, largely due to its mountainous setting. It also has anextremelyshort runway, one of the shortest in the world at just 6,112 feet in length, which makes landing large carriers a challenge to say the least.Picture 4 of 18
The mountainous terrain forces planes into a frantic decent and sharp turn just before having to line up with the runway. Local residents also live in almost constant danger with the low flying planes passing just feet over their houses on their final approach. There have been several large crashes, with six fatal crashes since 1989.
4 - Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport Saba Island
The idea of building an airport ion this remote but incredibly beautifulpiece oflandseemedfanciful. However, largely due to the determination of one man, Captain Remy F. de Haenen, space was cleared on one of the only flat bits of land on the entireisland.Picture 5 of 18
The runway at Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport is only 1300 feet in length, the shortest in the world used by commercial planes. It is also flanked with steep cliffs which obscure the view until just before takeoff.
5 - Kansai International Airport, Terminal 1, Osaka, Japan
This amazing airport was planned and designed on a site that did not yet exist. The world's first ocean airport is built on a man-made island measuring just 4km by 2.5km in Osaka Bay.The airportis amazing for several reasons. It has the longest airportterminalin the world, if not the longest building in the world, measuring 1.7km in length with numerous corridors sprouting out from the sides.Picture 6 of 18
The airport, or at least the island that houses it, is also visible from space. The building has been designed to withstand all but the most powerful earthquakes and typhoons. Indeed when the Kobe earthquake of 1995 happened, the airport was undamaged and its glass remained unbroken, this despite the epicenter being just 20kms away. The American Society of Engineers named Kansai in its top ten Civil Engineering Monuments of the Millennium.
6 - Hajj Terminal, King Abdul Aziz Airport, Jeddah
This unmistakable airport is formed by a mass of perfectly aligned gigantic tents and is undoubtedly one of the most striking airport terminals in the world. The 210 white fiberglass tents create a "chimney effect" that cools the hot desert air without resorting to expensive, hard-to-maintain air conditioning systems. The tents can hold 80,000 people, and are open to the elements.Picture 7 of 18
But what makes the Jeddah Hajj Terminal so unique is the fact that it is only open during the "hajj," a religious pilgrimage to Mecca. However, during this six-week period, it's becomes one of the busiest airport terminals in the world.
10 - Agatti Aerodrome, Lakshadweep, India
“Seriously, that’s an airport?” – That is precisely what you think when the captain announces landing. Looking like nothing more than just a strip of land protruding out of the heavenly blue waters, it is actually the Agatti Airport in Lakshadweep. Designed for Dornier 228-typeairplanes, this is the only one serving the Lakshadweep islands.Picture 11 of 18
The Airports Authority of India had supposedly planned to extend the runway to the nearby island of Kalpati, so that an Airbus 320 or Boeing aircraft could be accommodated, but the plan was later scrapped as it would have infringed upon a turtle nesting territory.
13 - Madeira Airport, Santa Cruz, Portugal
If you are looking to savor some fine Madeira wine and witness the largest fireworks show on a New Year’s Eve, you have to land on this very interesting airstrip. The airport has been a success story since it started in 1964 with a 1,600mrunway, until the TAP Portugal Flight 425 incident took place in 1977. The regular flight fromBrusselsoverran the runway andcrashedonto the beach, killing 131 of its 164 passengers.Picture 14 of 18
There was no more land to extend the strip, but engineers came up with something unique. A hundred and eighty columns of about 70m each were erected — some of them on the ocean itself — and the runway were stretched by 847m. Due to the terrain, it is considered one of the most amazing feats of airport engineering.
15 - Gustaf III Airport, Saint Barthélemy
The small airport of Gustaf III, on theCaribbean islandof Saint Barthélemy, provides pilots and passengers alike with some fairlygravedangers. The corridor in which the runway has been built is incredibly narrow, and planes come frighteningly close to hitting the slopes of the adjacent upland area, or plummeting into the ocean, every time they land. Some videos on YouTube clearly show what you might have to go through if something goes wrong during the landing on this airport. The good thing is that—in this instance at least—no one was even slightly injured.Picture 16 of 18
16 - Gisborne Airport, New Zealand
Level crossings for rail-road intersections in India are common, but this one in the NorthIsland of Kiwi-land pushes it a bit too far. The Palmerston North-Gisborne Line railway route crosses right through the main runway. And mind you, this is a proper public airport. We aren’t really sure which time-table the authorities refer to for managing the airport — the train timings or the flight schedule?
17 - Congonhas Airport, Brazil
Most major cities have an airport, but rarely are they built just 5 miles from the city center, especially in metropolises like Sao Paulo. Congonhas' close proximity todowntown can be attributed in part to the fact that it was completed in 1936, with the city experiencing rapid development in the following decades.
While having an airport only 5 miles from the city center may be a convenience for commuters, it places a strain on both pilots and air traffic control crews. It becomes a challenge in terms of safety to just get the plane in there. Fortunately, Sao Paulo's many high-rise buildings are far enough away from the airport that they aren't an immediate obstacle for pilots landing or taking off.