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Madeira’s Funchal Airport: An Engineering Marvel And An Avgeek Favorite That Makes Pilots and Passengers Cringe

It has been called the Kai Tak of European airports, after Hong Kong’s notorious airport, infamous for its own roof-top, cross-wind approaches to runway 13.

The History Channel rated it as the 9th most extreme airport in the world.

The website, Interesting Engineering rated it #2 in its ranking of the world’s most dangerous airports, more dangerous than Tenzing Hillary Airport in Nepal.

In 2004, its runway – which bears a disturbing similarity to Monaco’s famous tunnel on it Gran Prix circuit – was awarded the Outstanding Structure Award (“OSA”) for 2004 by the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineering (“IABSE”).

Wedged between a steep cliff and the sea, Madeira’s Airport, formerly Santa Catarina Airport, is also known as Funchal Airport (IATA: FNC; ICAO: LPMA) has a single runway of just over 9100 feet capable of landing an A330. It’s similarity to Monaco is because a considerable segment of the runway is an extension built on a platform sitting atop 180 columns, each over 200 feet tall.

While the elevated platform gave pilots more runway, it did nothing to eliminate the turbulence and downdrafts for which the airport is still famous. And in the back of every pilot’s mind is that over-running the runways gets you a 200 vertical drop to the sea.

In 2015, 2.5 million commercial passengers quite safely passed through the airport’s largely subterranean terminal, 13.2 kilometers (8.2 miles) from the Island capital, Funchal. Skilled pilots execute the difficult approach safely. But the internet abounds with breath-taking videos of extreme landings and missed approaches .

Check out footage shot by Samuel Passos, creator of AviationChannel2010.


Written by Bransom Bean

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