Scary airport runways not unusual

The new runway design at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport might sound exotic – airplanes touching down six stories above the ground as trains and drivers zoom through a tunnel underneath.

But whether the sloping Fort Lauderdale runway will rise to the ranks of the world's weirdest or scariest when it opens in 2014 remains to be seen.

The competition is tough. Consider:

•St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport: Incoming! Tourists get a buzz from jetliners coming in for landings, because the airstrip is just beyond the beach. The image of a commercial jet coming straight for a squealing crowd of sunbathers is surreal. Airplanes taking off produce a screaming jet blast that sends sand and towels flying. Some of the landing videos have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people online, perhaps because they bear headlines like "Insane airplane landing almost crash.''

•New York City's LaGuardia: It's not a water landing, but some passengers might fear it will be. With the runway jutting into the East River, touchdowns can be nerve-wracking. Be glad you're not the pilot. Commercial pilot Chris Johnston, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, said moisture on the runway freezes in the winter, making it slick. The promixity of this airport to John F. Kennedy International means some approaches aren't ideal. Pilots aren't scared, though, he clarified. They consider it "challenging.''

•Toncontín International Airport, Tegucigalpa, Honduras:. The combination of mountains, a short runway and a hard veer toward the landing strip that's required prior to touchdown earns this airport a consistent place on most-hated lists. Prepare the motion sickness bag.

•Matekane Air Strip in Lesotho, Africa: Granted, most of us won't ever fly in or out of this tiny strip in Africa, but it bears noting. At just 1,300 feet long – a fraction of Fort Lauderdale's planned 8,000 feet – a screeching halt is the norm. The incentive for pilots to get it right is the cliff they'll drop off if they don't.

•Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va.: The ride offers a good view of the Washington Monument, and isn't bone-chilling. But this airport is not the friend of nervous fliers. Pilots are forced to navigate down the center of the meandering Potomoc River, so as to avoid the restricted air space of the federal government, including the White House.

•Los Angeles International and Atlanta International: Both airports have the relatively rare feature of a runway tunnel, like Fort Lauderdale will have — an enormous and costly engineering feat that carries drivers under the commercial runway.

•San Diego International: Skimming over tall buildings toward this runway can get the imagination going in the wrong direction. Dropping in steep, pilots buzz right over a parking garage located just near the end of the runway.

There are others.

If the passengers break into applause upon touchdown, the runway belongs on this list.

bwallman@tribune.com or 954-356-4541.


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