Princess Juliana International Airport Simpson Bay, Saint Maarten
Background:Nothing says fun in the sun like roaring engines and the smell of jet exhaust. Landing on this Caribbean island forces pilots to fly over a small strip of beach, clear a decent-size fence and pass over a road just before hitting the runway.
Why It's Unique:Not many airports are flanked by oceanfront property filled with tourists standing under incoming aircraft. While the tourists are not really in harm's way—with the exception of their hearing—Schreckengast says that trucks driving on the small road between the beach and the runway could be at risk. "The challenge is to make sure there's not a big semi truck coming through when the plane is landing. It becomes a vertical obstacle, and, if the truck is light, the jet blast could blow it over."
Courchevel International Airport Courchevel, France
Background:Getting to the iconic ski resort of Courchevel requires navigating the formidable French Alps before making a hair-raising landing at Courchevel International Airport. The runway is about 1700 feet long, but the real surprise is the large hill toward the middle of the strip.
Why It's Unique:"You take off downhill and you land going uphill," Schreckengast says. He adds that the hill, which has an 18.5 percent grade, is so steep that small planes could probably gain enough momentum rolling down it with no engines to safely glide off the edge. Landing at Courchevel is obviously no easy task, so pilots are required to obtain certification before attempting to conquer the dangerous runway.
Background:Between Morocco and Spain sits the tiny British territory of Gibraltar. Construction of the airport dates back to World War II, and it continues to serve as a base for the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force, though commercial flights land on a daily basis.
Why It's Unique:Winston Churchill Avenue, Gibraltar's busiest road, cuts directly across the runway. Railroad-style crossing gates hold cars back every time a plane lands or departs. "There's essentially a mountain on one side of the island and a town on the other," Schreckengast says. "The runway goes from side to side on the island because it's the only flat space there, so it's the best they can do. It's a fairly safe operation as far as keeping people away," he says, "It just happens to be the best place to land, so sometimes it's a road and sometimes it's a runway