America's 10 scariest airports
What keeps pilots awake at night? Reduced visibility, congested runways, raging weather, and sharp turns. These are just a few of the conditions that trouble pilots in some of the most challenging airports in America. While all major hubs in the U.S. are considered safe (in the words of pilot Patrick Smith, "There is no such thing as an unsafe commercial airport"), some hubs are far more hazardous than others.
We interviewed several professional pilots to find out which spots are particularly demanding for even experienced aviators. Here are 10 U.S. airports where pilots — and passengers — are in for hair-raising takeoffs and landings.
Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C.
Picture a hub, flanked by no-fly zones and marked by intensely sharp turns: that's Reagan National, a nightmare for many an American aviator.
"Located between prohibited airspaces covering sensitive sites and government buildings such as the White House and the Capitol, Reagan National requires pilots to follow the Potomac River in the so-called River Visual (approach)," said David Cenciotti, a freelance journalist and private pilot who blogs at The Aviationist. "The aircraft then perform a final visual right turn (30 degrees to 40 degrees) at low altitude to line up with Runway 19."
Chicago Midway International Airport, Chicago, Ill.
According to Cenciotti, severe winter weather in conjunction with short runways prove demanding for pilots jetting in and out of this Midwestern hub. Congestion is a big concern, too — Chicago Midway is commonly known as "the world's busiest square mile" (it covers roughly one square mile, natch). Cenciotti tells us, "The runway system, made of four intersecting runways and taxiways, can be extremely confusing for aircraft on the ground."
Bob Hope Airport, Burbank, Calif.
A YouTube search of "Bob Hope, Burbank" yields videos of tricky, white-knuckle landings. Blame the lack of length: The runways at this hub are particularly — dangerously — short, and they're some of the smallest runways used for commercial flights in the country. Cenciotti cites the airport's compressed landing strips (as well as altitude — Bob Hope has an elevation of more than 700 feet) as cause for concern. In 2000, a Southwest flight overran the runway in Burbank and came to land near a gas station; no one was killed, but a few passengers sustained serious injuries.