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The Longest & Shortest Runways in the World!

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Longest & Shortest Runways in the World

Photo by Pascal Meier / unsplash.com

Flight. Mankind’s biggest dream. Despite its short history, aviation has taken man everywhere on the planet. It has allowed us to see the true face of our blue home, and this inspired countless of people to dream of distant horizons, far away from the mundane bits most lives on Earth are comprised of.

Those who have flown before and opened our eyes to the immensity above, have also left a few quotes that express so well the true nature of flying, this most beautiful dream of mankind, a world of blue skies and orange sunrises above the clouds.

There’s one saying in particular, of an author unknown, that lines up with the purpose of this article. “A mile of highway will take you just one mile, but a mile of runway will take you anywhere“. In real life, a runway can be over 3 miles long, but it can also be less than 1,000 feet as well, and everything in between.

And this brings us to the intent of this article, to find out which are the longest and shortest runways in the world. Let’s discover them.

The World’s Longest Runways

Here are the ten longest runways in the world.

10. Erbil International Airport (EBL), Iraq – 4,800m

Erbil International Airport runway

Erbil International Airport / facebook.com

Situated in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the Erbil International Airport (EBL) features the 10th longest runway in the world, spanning 4,800 meters, or 15,748 feet.

It was constructed in the early 1970s as a military base, and operated as a one until 2003, when the Kurdistan Regional Government took over the the administrative rule of the region after the liberation of the country. The modernized airport opened officially in 2005 and it’s administered by both the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The airport is world class both in passenger comfort and by technical standards, and together with the city of Erbil, it’s growing to become not just a transfer hub, but also an important destination.

Despite the troubled past of the country, the city of Erbil ranks among the safest and the most secure cities not only in Iraq, but in the entire world. Another interesting fact is that the Erbil Citadel, around which the city was built, is the longest continuously inhabited sites in the world, with a history that begins around 6,000 years ago.

9. Madrid-Torrejón Airport (TOJ), Spain – 4,818m

Madrid-Torrejón Airport runway

Madrid-Torrejón Airport / wikipedia.org

Located in central Spain, Madrid is one of Europe’s most important transportation hubs, and is especially important when it comes to connecting Europe and the American continent. The Madrid-Torrejón Airport (TOJ) is one of the airports that serve the big city, and it’s split between military and civilian use.

Situated fifteen miles northeast of Madrid, the airport serves both the Spanish Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Public Works. It has a runway of 4,818 meters long, or 15,807 feet, and the civilian part of the airport serves executive and private aviation.

8. Hamad International Airport (DOH), Qatar – 4,850m

Hamad International Airport runway

Hamad International Airport / airport-business.com

Qatar’s Hamad International Airport, formerly known as Doha, offers one of the most comfortable passenger experiences in the world, employing cutting edge technology and automation while delivering some of the most impressive entertainment facilities you could ever dream of having in an airport.

Hamad is home to Qatar’s flag airline carrier, Qatar Airways, and sits nearby the country’s capital, Doha, hence its former name. It has two runways, one of which measures 4,850 meters, or 15,912 feet, in length.

7. Denver International Airport (DEN), United States – 4,877m

Denver International Airport runway

Denver Int’l Airport / twitter.com

With a runway length of 4,877 meters (16,001 feet), the Denver International Airport that serves the US city of Denver and the entire Colorado, has the seventh longest runway in the world among commercial airports.

It’s also the largest airport in North America, and has flights to over 200 destinations around the world.

6. Upington Airport (UTN), South Africa – 4,900m

Upington Airport runway

Upington Airport / aviationnepal.com

The Upington Airport is situated in Upington, Northern Cape, South Africa and features a 4,900 meters (16,100 feet) runway, one of the longest in the world. The runway was designed to fulfill the specifications for the operation of the Boeing 747 aircraft with full load of passengers, fuel, and cargo, hence the long runway.

The airport was opened in 1968, and a 2006 modernization transformed it into a international cargo hub. Currently, there’s only one airline that operates regular scheduled flights there, and that’s Airlink. Apart from it, there are various other non-scheduled charter flights that also operate from Upington Airport.

5. Embraer Unidade Gavịo Peixoto Airport, Brazil Р4,967m

Embraer Unidade Gavião Peixoto Airport runway

Embraer Unidade Gavião Peixoto Airport / airports-worldwide.com

Located near Sao Paolo, Brazil, the Embraer Unidade Gavião Peixoto Airport is home to the longest public use runway on the American continent, reaching 4,967 meters, or 16,295 feet.

Since 2001, the airport is also home to an Embraer plant, where parts of various Embraer aircraft are produced. The company also utilizes the airport for flight testing.

4. Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport (ULY), Russia – 5,000m

Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport runway

Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport / avsimrus.com

If you look back in history, there has always been a battle between east and west when it came to aircraft technology, and Russia always went big on size. Thinking of that, it’s no wonder that it’s got two airports that have runways which reach and exceed 5,000 meters.

The Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport, IATA code ULY, is located 28 kilometers (17 miles) north of the city of Ulyanovsk, and mainly serves as a cargo airport, but also as a hub for the Volga-Dnepr Airlines.

3. Shigatse Peace Airport (RKZ), China – 5,000m

Shigatse Peace Airport runway

Shigatse Peace Airport / bellingcat.com

With the same runway length of 5,000 meters, the Shigatse Peace Airport in Shigatse, Tibet Autonomous Region, is in a tie with the Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport above.

The airport is a joint-use facility between the Chinese Military and public airlines, some of them being China Eastern Airlines, Tibet Airlines, and West Air, all operating regular scheduled flights.

2. Zhukovsky International Airport (ZIA), Russia – 5,402m

Zhukovsky International Airport runway

Zhukovsky International Airport runway / ESS, Svetlov Artem / wikipedia.org

The second longest commercial runway in the world belongs to the Zhukovsky International Airport (ZIA) in Moscow, Russia, at 5,402 meters, or 17,723 feet. It’s also the longest runway in Europe, capable of handling some of the world’s largest airplanes.

The airport itself is new, being opened only in 2016, and is Moscow’s fourth international airport, able of managing up to 4 million passengers per year.

1. Qamdo Bamda Airport (BPX), China – 5,500m

Qamdo Bamda Airport runway

Qamdo Bamda Airport / AeroDork / twitter.com

The Qamdo Bamda Airport in Bamda, Tibet Autonomous Region, China, serving the city of Qamdo, which is 136km away, is currently holding the title for the longest commercial runway in the world, spanning 5,500 meters, or 18,045 feet.

The reason for such a long runway is the altitude of 4,400 meters (14,435 feet) above sea level at which the airport is situated. The high altitude means there’s virtually less air than at sea level, which negatively impacts an airplane’s lift. With wings generating less than normal lift, the airplane simply requires more runway length to reach the usual take off speed.

The Shortest Runways 

These are at the opposite side of the range, the ten shortest runways in the world.

10. John A. Osborne Airport (MNI), Montserrat, Caribbean – 600m

John A. Osborne Airport runway

John A. Osborne Airport / roadgrip.co.uk

The John A. Osborne Airport is located in a village in the British Overseas Territory in Montserrat, the Caribbean Sea. It was formerly called Gerald’s Airport, after the name of the village, and after a modernization, the airport received a new passenger terminal in 2005. Its runway is 600m long, and it comes with a public tunnel underneath, the only one of its kind in the Caribbean.

The airport features modern air traffic control, restaurant, and upgraded facilities as well.

9. Courchevel Altiport (CVF), France – 537m

Courchevel Altiport

Courchevel Altiport / Photo by Martin PUTZ / wikiwand.com

The Courchevel Altiport in the French Alps is a very interesting one, unique in the world thanks to the shape and location of its runway. The runway length of 537 meters (1,762 feet) poses a difficulty for pilots, but the primary challenge is the fact that the runway itself is built on the side of a mountain, and it has an upward slope and a gradient of 18%, making landing very difficult.

To make things even more interesting, there’s no go-around procedure due to the mountainous terrain around, no lighting aids, and no instrument approach procedures either.

The Courchevel Altiport serves the ski resort of Courchevel, and it’s considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world for the reasons stated above.

8. Ramechhap Airport (RHP), Nepal – 530m

Ramechhap Airport

Ramechhap Airport / nepaltrekkinginhimalaya.com

Nepal has several short runway airports, one of them being the Ramechhap Airport, which serves the municipality of Manthali, near Kathmandu, and usually operates flights between it and the famous Lukla Airport. The runway at Ramechhap Airport is only 530 meters long, or 1,739 feet.

The airport is mainly used by tourists who want to go trekking and climbing in the Himalayas, which is why all its scheduled flights are to Lukla.

7. Tenzing–Hillary Airport (LUA), Nepal – 527m

Tenzing–Hillary Airport

Tenzing–Hillary Airport / facebook.com

The Tenzing-Hillary Airport, also known as Lukla Airport, is also one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Actually, for many years it was considered the most dangerous airport in the world, which is how it got its legendary status.

On the other hand, due to its location, it’s also the starting point for treks to Mount Everest Base Camp.

That is the main reason for its popularity, despite the dangers presented by the short 527m runway and the often adverse weather conditions there, which count high winds, cloud cover, challenging surrounding terrain, and sudden losses of visibility.

6. St Mary’s Airport (ISC), Isles of Scilly, United Kingdom – 525m

St Mary’s Airport short runway

St Mary’s Airport / scillytoday.com

Situated in the Isles of Scilly, United Kingdom, St Mary’s Airport is the only airport serving the islands. It features two runways, one of which has only 525 meters long.

The airport is open all year round for the public, but it’s also utilized by emergency services such as the coast guard and search and rescue teams, and also the Cornwall Air Ambulance.

5. Doti Airport (SIH), Nepal – 490m

Doti airport

Doti airport / Google Maps

Also known as Silgadhi, the Doti Airport in Nepal serves the country’s Doti District. While the airport itself was opened in 1973, its 490 meter (1,608 feet) runway was only blacktopped and modernized in 2020. Two years later, the airport started having scheduled flights.

Currently, there’s only one airline who operates from Doti, Nepal Airlines, and most flights are towards Dhangadhi, which is Nepal’s western most aviation hub.

4. Helgoland Airport (HGL), Germany – 480m

Helgoland Airport

Helgoland Airport / Photo by Louis-F. Stahl / wikipedia.org

The Helgoland Airport is situated on the island of Düne, part of the Helgoland archipelago, Germany, and it sits at an altitude of only 2 meters above the sea level. The length of its main runway reaches only 480 meters.

There’s only one airline operating there, the OFD Ostfriesischer-Flug-Dienst, with scheduled flights to only two destinations.

3. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport (SAB), Caribbean – 400m

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport / Photo by Fyodor Borisov / wikipedia.org

The Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba is another very intriguing airport, one that has developed a legendary reputation among aviation enthusiasts.

Its 400 meter runway is the shortest paved runway in the world right now, but even more spectacular is the orientation of the runway and the approach path, with no space at either end of the runway, ending right above the cliffs and the water.

Due to that particularity, there’s only a few STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) capable aircraft that operate there.

2. Westray Airport (WRY), Scotland – 291m

Westray Airport

Westray Airport / Bing Maps

The Westray Airport and its brother Papa Westray in Scotland make for an interesting pair. Connecting them is the shortest commercial flight in the world, taking only 2 minutes and covering a distance of just 2.8 km (1.7 miles).

The runway at the Westray Airport measures only 291 meters. The airport itself is operated by the Orkney Islands Council, and Loganair is the only operator that has regular scheduled flights in and out of Westray, including the one to Papa Westray.

1. Papa Westray (PPW), Scotland – 250m 

Papa Westray Airport

Papa Westray Airport / Bing Maps

The smaller airport of the two, Papa Westray, also has a runway of only 250m, which is considered the shortest commercial runway in the world. It’s incredibly small when you compare it to the longest runway in the world, but it’s understandable for such a small place.

The airport has commercial passenger flights to three destinations, but it’s not equipped to handle night flights.

Final thoughts

These are currently the longest and the shortest runways in the world, all of them impressive feats of engineering, no matter if their on the large or short scale.

While the longest runways in the world pose no problem to pilots, the shortest runways in the world, and especially those at higher altitudes that see severe weather conditions and mountainous terrain, such as the Courchevel Altiport in France or the Lukla Airport in Nepal, pose a big challenge and huge risks to pilots.

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About The Author
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Vlad Craciun

Vlad has over 7 years of experience writing content about subjects such as travel, cars, motorcycles, tech & gadgets, and his newly discovered passion, watches. He’s in love with two wheeled machines and the freedom and the thrills that motorcycle travel provides.

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