World's top 10 scariest airports for take-offs and landings

Adrenalin-rush or flightmare? These are the 10 ultimate landings for thrillseekers.

1 PARO, BHUTAN

Bhutan's only international airstrip, Paro Airport sits in a serpentine river valley shadowed by mountains that crest 3000 metres above the runway. The approach requires a series of aerial gymnastics through the valley, the aircraft skimming close to forested ridges. Flights are restricted to visual approaches only yet the pilot is unable to see the runway until just 500 feet above it. In the final few seconds before touchdown at just 100 feet, the aircraft must bank hard left, followed by aggressive braking and full reverse thrust.

See also: Bhutan - Asia's most exclusive destination

2 LUKLA, NEPAL

This is the gateway for trekkers and mountaineers heading for Everest Base Camp, but with a length of just over 500 metres and a gradient of 12 degrees Lukla is a pilot's worst nightmare. The weather is formidable, winds capricious and once committed to the landing there is zero possibility of a go-around, a mountain wall awaits. It's also busy, with over 50 flights a day in the climbing season, and crashes are not unknown among the twin-engine short-take-off-and-landing aircraft that operate here.

See also: Nepal's best-kept trekking secret

3 QUITO, ECUADOR

The 4.1-kilometre runway is the longest of any international airport in Latin America, and at an elevation of 2410 metres an aircraft needs all that, but the Tababela winds that blow between July and September can make this a flightmare for incoming aircraft. Blowing off the Andean Highlands, the colossal wind shear can cause approaching aircraft to see-saw wildly. Fog is common and the proximity of the Antisana volcano makes for a tight approach.

See also: The Quito hotel named South America's best

4 LEH, INDIA

In the depths of the Indus River valley, cradled between peaks that soar to 5500 metres, this is one of the highest commercial airports in the world at 3256 metres. The one-hour flight from Delhi crosses the Great Himalaya Range and drops down into the valley, banking to follow the course of the river and passing close to outlying ridges. Due to high winds that rise later in the day only morning flights are permitted. Thin air at this altitude means less lift, which also means high speed landings and take-offs on Leh's 2752m runway.

See also: India for beginners - what you need to know

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5 TONCONTIN, HONDURAS

The mountainous terrain dictates a swerving approach to this international airport, which serves the city of Tegucigalpa. Although the runway was extended after an A320 pilot landed his aircraft 400 metres beyond the threshold, causing it to fall off a 20-metre embankment at the far end, the airstrip is still on the short side of comfort at 2163 metres. Gusty winds are another complication, requiring quick yaw, pitch and roll adjustments, which means a lumpy final approach.

6 MADEIRA, PORTUGAL

The runway sits close to the sea at the base of a long sloping hill that generates powerful crosswinds, requiring pilots to approach at an acute angle until the last seconds before touchdown. In 2000, following some horrendous crashes, the runway was extended by a kilometre on pylons that take the runway out over the sea. This inflicts an extra psychological load on pilots since there is no safety zone on the seaward side of the runway, only a sheer drop.

See also: Madeira is a walker's paradise that will leave you stunned

7 QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND

On the edge of Lake Wakatipu, this is another airport where topography requires a precision approach with flap adjustments to take account of the contours of the mountain ranges. The approach takes the aircraft over Lake Hayes and down into the trough of the Kawarau River valley, below the peaks of the surrounding mountains.  Low-lying mist in the valley, strong downdraughts and a relatively short runway focus pilots' concentration.

See also: 20 reasons to visit Queenstown

8 BARRA, SCOTLAND

On the island of Barra In the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, pilots have to wait until the tide is out until they can land and take off. The runway is also known as Traigh Mhor  Beach, the only airport in the world where scheduled flights operate from a beach, marked by wooden poles buried in the sand. At full tide, Barra's three runways are fully submerged.

See also: Scotland - a beginner's guide

9 COURCHEVEL, FRANCE

In the French Alps at an altitude of 2000 metres, the runway at Courchevel is the equivalent of a ski jump. Although the apron in front of the terminal is level, shortly after commencing their take off roll the runway in front of departing aircraft falls away to a gradient of 18.6 per cent, with a sheer drop off at the far end. It's also short, at just 537 metres. Incoming aircraft are required to accelerate after touchdown to ensure they make it up the steep slope. There is no go-around procedure, miss your landing here and you're boxed in by the mountains.

10 MATEKANE, LESOTHO

Located in the mountainous interior of Lesotho, runway 07 requires nerves of steel. The 400 metre dirt strip, which ends at a sheer drop, is so short that that it is common for aircraft to have insufficient airspeed to take off at the end. Instead, the aircraft will drop down into the deep valley of the Ohohbeng River until it gains enough speed to enable it to fly out of the canyon. Another complication is the altitude. At 2300 metres, engine power is compromised.

See also: World's safest airlines named in annual rankings

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