There are a few airports in the world with runways in dangerous locations. These airports make for spectacular landings and takeoffs, but they are not for the faint hearted.
Congonhas Airport, Sao Paulo Brazil: Congonhas is an airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil which is owned by the city of Sao Paulo. It was originally Brazil’s second busiest airport and was Sao Paulo’s international airport until 1985. The airport is situated in the Campo Belo neighborhood, just five miles from Sao Paulo’s city center at Washington Luis Avenue. This makes the airport extremely convenient for the over 13 million passengers it handles every year, most of which use Brazil’s two biggest airlines, TAM and Gol. However, the airports location also makes for some hair raising landings and take offs, as planes negotiate Sao Paulo’s downtown skyscrapers. Ultimately the airport’s runway, at 6,365 feet, could not be extended without further encroaching on the city center, therefore larger aircraft used for international flights could not land at Congonhas Airport.
Sao Paulo’s second airport and the alternative to Congonhas was Viracopos International Airport. However Viracopos is 62 miles from downtown Sao Paulo, and therefore to inconvenient for most travelers. The City’s answer to the problem was to build Guarulhos International airport, leaving Congonhas airport for commercial and domestic flights only.
The spectacular approach to Congonhas Airport; over downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Not surprisingly Congonhas Airport has a poor safety record with thirteen accidents involving fatalities since 1943. By far the worst being the 2007 Tam airlines, flight 3054, which overshot the airports runway and crashed into an airport building, killing all 187 passengers plus 12 workers on the ground.
Toncontin International Airport, Honduras: Toncontin Airport, Honduras is a military run airport that also serves domestic and international flights. The airport, which is most commonly known as Tegucigalpa, is located at altitude on a plateau four miles from the capital city of Tegucigalpa. The plateau is surrounded by hills and the runway is short at 7,069 ft (the runway was extended in 2009 an extra 937 ft). A pilot landing at TGU airport must hastily line up the plane between the hills, with just a few hundred feet to spare, before descending rapidly, making sure to clear the hills, highway and fence before the start of the landing strip. Moreover, the approach means that the first 500 ft of the runway are of no use for landing.
As you can imagine the airport has seen more than its share of accidents. In 1997 a US air force cargo plane overshot the runway, crashing into the highway and rolling over, bursting into flames. The plane’s three crew members lost their lives. In 2008 an Airbus A320 had a similar fate when it also overshot the airports runway, killing five people. The tragedies were mostly blamed on human error and bad weather. However the accident that is most closely associated with TGU, perhaps a little unfairly, was the 1989 crash of a Boeing 727-200 of Tan-Sasha airlines. The plane crashed into a hill 25 miles from the airport, killing 127 passengers.
A plane banks sharply on the approach to Toncontin International Airport, Honduras.
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport Saba Island, the Netherland Antilles: Like something out of a James Bond movie, the landing strip on this tiny volcanic island in the Caribbean Sea is just 1,300 ft long, about the size of an aircraft carriers flight deck. Furthermore, there is no room for error because at either end of the runway there are shear drops to the cliffs and ocean below. Taking off is just as tricking as landing because of the islands volcanic peak. Saba Island takes the prize for having the worlds shortest runway and only small non jet planes are allowed to land there. Despite the perilous arrival and departure, there are still tourists who visit the island, which is known for its hiking, ecolodges and scuba diving. Fortunately no plane has ever crashed at Saba Island airport and that’s the way the Netherlands Antilles Civil Aviation Authority would like to keep it. The airport is officially closed and pilots must first obtain a permit to land there.
The landing strip at Saba Island.
Princess Juliana International Airport: If you are traveling to Saba Island or any one of the Windward Islands you would first get your connecting flight at Princess Juliana Airport. Although the airports runway is not particularly short at 7,407 ft, the airports approach over the ocean can be disorientating for pilots, who may become unaware of their correct altitude when under visual flight rules. However, rest assured there has been no major airline accidents since Princess Juliana airport was opened as a public airport in 1943.
Plane spotters work on their suntans at the beach outside Princess Juliana Airport.
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