The 14 Most Dangerous Airports in the World (in 2024)

Last Updated: April 12th, 2024

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The statistics tell us that we’re far less likely to experience a fatal plane crash than a fatal car crash, but there are some airports out there that seem to skew those odds.

The most dangerous airports in the world require their pilots to maneuver around (and sometimes off!) mountain peaks, deal with challenging weather, and sometimes, even land on surfaces other than concrete.

Here are the world’s riskiest airports and airstrips, many of which are still used every day.

The 14 Most Dangerous Airports in the World

1. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal

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The runway of Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal

Often referred to as the single most dangerous airport in the world, Nepal’s Tenzing-Hillary Airport is more commonly known as Lukla Airport. It’s not difficult to understand what makes this airport so dangerous when you consider it lies on the edge of a cliff.

Most people would write this off just from glancing at photos of it perched in the mountains, but the town of Lukla is one of the most popular access points for Mount Everest.

The airport has an extremely short runway of 1,729 feet, while other airports have runways of up to 15,000 feet. This leaves more room for things to go wrong at Lukla. It lies around 9,400 feet above sea level and is exposed to mountainous winds and snow, which explains why flights are frequently grounded.

The good news is the notorious airport isn’t open to just anybody. Only expertly trained pilots with extensive experience flying in Nepal have permission to land here in either small planes or helicopters.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the airport is prone to aviation disasters. The first deadly crash occurred here in 1973, less than 12 years after the airport first opened. The most recent crash in 2022 left three dead and four injured.

2. Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland

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The icy fjords of Narsarsuaq, Greenland

Situated in Greenland’s south, Narsarsuaq Airport is infamous for its position amongst the country’s iconic fjords.

Add to this the fact that several volcanoes exist in the vicinity which ooze with ash that fogs the sky, and the airport becomes the perfect environment for a disaster. Pilots can only land at Narsarsuaq during the day because night-time conditions are generally too dangerous.

The airport serves the town of the same name, which was once an American military base and is currently home to around 150 people—most of whom work at the airport.

While the town itself isn’t considered a tourist attraction, it does serve as the gateway to South Greenland, frequently bringing in visitors from Copenhagen and Iceland.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been at least seven crashes that took place at or near Narsarsuaq, four that departed from the airport, and eight that were on their way there. While the geography makes this airport difficult to land in, it does make for stunning views upon descent.

3. Matekane Air Strip, Lesotho

Another worryingly short runway is Matekane Air Strip in Lesotho, Africa. At just 1,600 feet, it’s significantly shorter than most runways, but the most unsettling part is that the runway extends straight to the edge of a 1,900-foot cliff.

Planes often drop down the cliff until they begin flying because they don’t have the space to become airborne before they reach the edge. Of course, this means there’s little room for beginner pilots who are still gaining experience, or human error.

Because of the lack of infrastructure in Lesotho, the airstrip is one of the only ways that people can access the country. Typically, the people who most frequently travel there are doctors bringing aid to rural communities.

4. Wellington International Airport, New Zealand

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Plane coming in to land at Wellington Airport

New Zealand is a beautiful country renowned for its mountainous terrain and volcanic landscape. But that doesn’t always make for the best landing conditions.

Wellington International Airport, on the North Island, is considered to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world due to strong winds and the fact that the runway basically, begins and ends in the ocean.

While strong winds are a universal challenge for airports all over the world, they are particularly difficult to deal with in Wellington. In 2009, a Cessna plane was actually flipped onto its roof because of intense winds, but thankfully, there were no fatalities.

At only 6,358 feet long, the runway is considered short, which adds to the pressure that already exists thanks to the weather and turbulence. However, despite the risky conditions, Wellington International Airport does have a good safety record.

5. Paro International Airport, Bhutan

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Mountainous valley near Paro International Airport

Paro International Airport, in the Asian nation of Bhutan, lies in the Himalayas. As the only international airport in the country, it is frequently used by travelers coming and going from Bhutan, but because of the airport’s notorious conditions, only select pilots with extensive experience are permitted to land there.

The airport has a 6,500-foot runway and is surrounded by mountains that rise up to 18,000 feet, so it’s understandable that landing here takes great skill, and all arrivals and departures are restricted to daytime hours. There are currently no radars to help guide pilots to landing, and all flights must be conducted in manual mode.

However, according to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been no recorded incidents of crashes occurring at or near Paro, so those tight safety measures must be working.

6. Phoenix Runway, Antarctica

Phoenix-Runway-Antarctica

You might have guessed that one of the world’s most dangerous airports, or at least runways, would be in Antarctica. As Business Insider explains, the majority of people travel to the southern continent from (relatively) nearby destinations, but it is possible to fly in using several makeshift runways.

Located near the McMurdo Station military base, the Phoenix Runway in particular is used by the US Air Force and was created by tightly compacting snow together until it feels hard like concrete.

The fact that it’s made from snow rather than asphalt or concrete is unsettling enough, but this runway also doesn’t have any lights. That’s problematic even in locations where there’s sunlight in winter.

The first passenger plane landed on the runway in 2017, and there have so far been no recorded fatalities from crash landings.

7. Telluride Airport, USA

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Telluride Airport, USA Image by: Telluride Airport

It doesn’t matter where in the world an airport is located; if it’s high enough above sea level, there are going to be increased risks and dangers. One such dangerous airport is Colorado’s Telluride Airport, which sits at a cool 9,070 feet above sea level.

This position, which also makes it the highest-elevation commercial airport in the United States, means the airport is exposed to strong winds and is surrounded by towering cliff peaks.

Sadly in 2020, two newlyweds from Florida were killed in a crash near the airport when the single-engine plane they were traveling on ran into unexpected mountain terrain.

Before the 2020 tragedy, there was a crash at the airport in 2015, but there were no casualties.

8. Courchevel Altiport, France

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The snow-topped French Alps around Courchevel Altiport

Known as the airport with Europe’s shortest runway, Courchevel Altiport serves as a gateway to the French Alps and is commonly used by the rich and famous to have quick access to a number of five-star hotels and chalets (via Courchevel VIP).

Along with having a short runway, it also has the highest elevation of any airport in Europe, so the associated risks are a concern.

The most recent fatality at Courchevel took place in 2021 when a single-engine private plane crashed as the result of a premature descent on the approach. Before that, a pilot was killed in 1986 after departing Courchevel en route to Geneva due to poor weather conditions.

9. Svalbard Airport, Norway

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Svalbard Airport in the midst of a polar night

There would be no list of the most dangerous airports in the world without Svalbard, which was sadly the scene of Norway’s most deadly aviation crash in history. In August of 1996, Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801, which was carrying 141 people, crashed into a mountain after flying off course, killing everyone on board.

The crash was put down to the pilot not knowing enough English to effectively communicate with those on the ground, and the pilot also not having sufficient knowledge of local procedures. However, despite this grim claim to fame, the airport hasn’t been the scene of any crashes since, per the Aviation Safety Network.

10. Barra Airport, Scotland

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Barra Airport, Scotland Image by: James Stringer – Flickr

If the thought of landing on snow bothers you, you probably should avoid Barra Airport in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, which uses a tidal beach for its runways. That’s right: during high tide, all three of the airport’s runways are submerged underwater.

The airport isn’t always operating, and when it’s not, the beach is actually still open to the public (and prior to the formation of the airport in the 1930s, it was a popular spot for cockling).

But despite the somewhat primitive nature of the beach airport, it does have an impressive safety record. The last crash recorded by the Bureau of Airline Accidents Archives took place in 1951 and there were no fatalities.

11. Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten

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Commercial jet coming in to land in St. Maarten

The Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten is probably more unsettling for the people on the ground than those taking off and landing. The Caribbean airport is so close to the public Maho Beach that it often seems as if flights are going to sweep up bystanders as they come and go.

Tragically, a tourist was killed in 2017 after a blast from the jet engines knocked her off her feet. She fell to the ground and hit her head, resulting in injuries that she later died from.

Beachgoers have been warned not to tread too close to the fence that marks the boundary between the airport and the beach, but many do anyway, hoping to enjoy the amazing view. Video footage exists of people being swept onto the sand and into the water once the plane engines are turned on.

12. Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan

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Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan Image by: NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan – Flickr

Kabul International Airport is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous airports, but not for the same reasons as most of the other airports on this list. The risks seem to be related to political unrest and violence on the ground rather than aviation challenges.

The Australian Government’s travel website Smart Traveller advises against traveling to Afghanistan in general due to the threat of terrorism and kidnapping but highlights the airport as a particular target for attacks.

Additionally, there have been fatal attacks at the airport in the past. In 2021, a suicide bomber outside the airport killed 170 locals and 13 US service members.

13. Kansai International Airport, Japan

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Bridge connecting Kansai International Airport to the mainland

The risk of natural disasters is the main factor that makes Japan’s Kansai International Airport particularly dangerous.

The airport serves the bustling metropolis of Osaka, but due to a lack of land space, it was constructed three miles off the coast of the mainland on an artificial island. In this position, Kansai Airport is vulnerable to earthquakes and cyclones, not to mention the consequences of rising sea levels.

Back in 2018, a typhoon in the area caused the runways to flood with seawater. During the typhoon, passengers were stranded at the airport, as it became dangerous to travel back to the mainland after a ship was hurled into the bridge connecting the island to Osaka.

There have been a handful of incidents at Kansai Airport over the last 70 years, the last fatal accident taking place in 1950 when a military plane crashed, killing 11 people (via Bureau Aircraft Accidents Archives).

14. LaGuardia Airport, USA

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Commercial jets lined up on the runway at New York City’s LaGuardia

Unlike many of the other airports on this list, New York’s LaGuardia Airport is one that you’re probably not only already familiar with but have actually traveled to. It isn’t as openly scary as other dangerous airports, but it is considered to be more dangerous than average because of the local bird population and the cramped airspace.

The Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archive lists several fatal crashes that have occurred at LaGuardia in recent history, including two in the 1970s and one in 1980.

More famously in 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River after running into a flock of Canadian geese just minutes after taking off from LaGuardia. Thankfully, there were no casualties, but the accident was a reflection of the wildlife conditions surrounding the airport.

Throughout the 2010s, LaGuardia was also known for its run-down appearance, with then-Vice President Joe Biden commenting in 2014, “If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you’d think, ‘I must be in some third-world country”. However, new terminals were opened in 2020 and 2022, helping to improve the airport’s appeal.

About The Author

Vanessa is an Australian-based freelance writer and editor with a BA in Creative Writing. She’s passionate about creating travel content that inspires her readers to take a leap of faith and power through their bucket lists. When she’s not writing (with her border collie asleep at her feet), she’s devouring books, exploring the world, or planning her next trip.

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Picture of Vanessa Elle

Vanessa Elle

Vanessa is an Australian-based freelance writer and editor with a BA in Creative Writing. She’s passionate about creating travel content that inspires her readers to take a leap of faith and power through their bucket lists.

When she’s not writing (with her border collie asleep at her feet), she’s devouring books, exploring the world, or planning her next trip.

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