Yesterday’s air crash of an Asiana 777 as it approached the runway at San Francisco Airport has raised the discussion once more over the safety of aircraft and airports around the world. If you look at statistics, 80% of accidents occur at take-off or landing with accidents on landing slightly outnumbering those occurring on take-off.
With the San Francisco crash, indications are that the plane came in too short and hit the sea wall before belly flopping and breaking up. Miraculously, only two people died.
Recent reports on the future of flying
indicated that pilots have very little to do on take-off and landing with auto-pilot and flight tracking meaning they’re only needed in an emergency. This seemed to be backed up when a pilotless plane flew successfully from one UK airport to another last month.
Whilst this should put our minds at ease, we are told that several airports in the world can only be used by particular classes of pilots. This is understandable when you think of the extreme airports like those at Svalbard or McMurdo in Antarctica where the runway is made of ice or the one at Courcheval where if you don’t time the descent accurately you crash into the mountainside below the runway. There are however, other very commonly used airports where you’d imagine you’d be safe until you look out of the aircraft windows.
The runway for Gibraltar’s airport crosses a main road halfway down it. Winston Churchill Avenue is closed, a little like a railway crossing, when a plane lands but it can be disconcerting seeing vehicles cross the runway as you approach but probably more so for the poor drivers watching a large plane fail to give way at a junction!
This was once a very dangerous airport as the short runway ended where the sea began. After several accidents including one major one, the runway was extended but according to industry experts, by not enough, so it’s still thought of as one of the world’s most dangerous with an accident waiting to happen.
Sao Paulo Congonhas Airport
One of the biggest and busiest airports in Brazil, this airport is treacherous in the rainy season. Because of the construction of the runway, the airport suffers from several inches of standing water making aquaplaning common in aircraft coming into land. Grooves cut into the runway have helped but there are still dozens of skids each year giving a thrilling landing to hundreds of arriving passengers.
Other dangerous airports include Barra in Scotland where the runway is the sandy beach, Lukla Airport in Nepal where the runway ends in a 2,000ft drop or Paro Airport in nearby Bhutan where because the runway is located between two mountains, only eight pilots are qualified to land a plane there.
If you’re now worried, here’s a more sobering thought. Over 93% of people involved in air crashes have survived!