Thanks to factors ranging from improvements in aircraft technology to more efficient air traffic control and better training for pilots and mechanics, air travel has become progressively safer over the decades. The number of fatal accidents involving jet airliners worldwide has dropped from 40 per million flights in 1959 to just 0.05 deaths per million flights in 2021, according to global data gathered by aircraft manufacturer Boeing.
Though airline travel is extremely safe, mishaps do still occur, and the riskiest part of any flight remains the final approach and landing. Those phases account for more than half of all fatalities, even though they account for just a few minutes out of a typical trip.
Pilots have to be especially careful when they land at some airports, which are located in areas where location, terrain, weather conditions and/or quirks in design can make their job even more difficult.
"Obviously, when you go into those airports, you do your homework prior to going in," explains Gregory Zahornacky. He's an assistant professor in the Aeronautical Science department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and a former airline captain with more than 15,000 hours of flying time.
Zahornacky says that the U.S. has some airports that are challenging for pilots. New York's LaGuardia Airport has earned that reputation because of its short runways, while Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport also has that issue, plus a difficult location. "You have the Anacostia and the Potomac rivers," Zahornacky says. "You have all that restricted airspace in there, too, with the Pentagon and the White House."
There are places such as Denver International Airport, one of the biggest airports in the world, where pilots have to be aware of how the elevation affects the plane's performance, Zahornacky notes. He also mentions the "precipitous terrain" at Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport as challenging for pilots. The latter is situated in a mountainous area with unpredictable winds and at times intense fog, according to this article from the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association, a group for pilots of smaller general aviation planes.
Airlines provide pilots with extensive information about airports with such challenges and require them to review it before flying to them, according to Zahornacky. In some cases, airlines require pilots to have special training to land. "You need to get the experience with someone who has already gone in there," he explains.
But the U.S. isn't the only place where there are airport runways that could make you lose your lunch. Here are 10 in other parts of the world, in no particular order, with characteristics that test pilots' skills and preparation.