Landing in Tegucigalpa Airport
One common question I get from people I know in other countries, or whenever I meet someone who is not from Honduras, is about landing in Tegucigalpa airport. Somehow people know there is something particular about landing in Tegucigalpa, but not many people really know what´s the issue here.
Back in 2010 the History Channel presented a TV program called "Most Extreme Airports", it was a documentary and description of some airports in the world that are considered to be the most extreme or the most dangerous airports. And Tegucigalpa airport was included on this list as the 2nd most extreme airport in the world, only after another airport in Nepal that was number 1 in the list. As History Channel is very famous worldwide, quite a lot of people watched that documentary, and many people who didn´t see it somehow got the rumors from somebody else.
To make a long story as short as possible, just let me tell you about some characteristics of Tegucigalpa airport, and why it is considered an extreme aiport. The name of the airport is Toncontin, it was built back in 1934, that was a long time ago. Anybody knows that back then aircrafts were very different compared to the ones we have at the present time. The first plane to land in Tegucigalpa airport was a Douglas DC-3 from Pan American World Airways, that was the inauguration of the airport. Back then the airport was located way outside of Tegucigalpa, you had to travel a few miles south of the city to get there. There was almost nothing around the airport in those days, the city was far away to the north.
But time goes by, and more than 70 years have passed since the airport was inaugurated. If you think about it, we will be approaching the 80 years mark in 2014, that´s only 3 more years. As you may guess, the city of Tegucigalpa has grown a little bit since then, in 80 years you can expect any city to have major changes. At the present time the city not only reached the area where the airport is located, but completely wrapped the area and even reached several miles to the south.
The airport is now located right in the middle of the city, there are several neighborhoods and commercial buildings around the area, which is very populated. Now, this is not the only case in the world where an airport is located right inside a big city, there are hundreds or even thousands of airports with the same issue. But why is Tegucigalpa airport so unique then?
One of the factors to considerate is the lenght of the runway. When the airport was built back in 1934, the lenght of the runway was more than enough for the aircrafts that used to get there. A Douglas DC-3 is really a small plane and had no problems at all when landing in Tegucigalpa airport. The lenght of the runway used to be about 5900 feet, more than enough for a Douglas DC-3 airplane. But with the jet aircrafts we have at the present time, 5900 feet is not very much for an airport runway.
However, the lenght of the runway was extended a few years ago with additional 1000 feet to the south, so total lenght is 6900 feet now, which is better. The longer the runway the safer for an airplane to land.
But the major issue about this airport is not really the lenght of the runway but the nearby mountains all around the area. Tegucigalpa is located inside the mountains, it´s like a little valley in the original downtown area, but in general the topography of the city is very uneven, we have hills and mountains all over the city, not only outside but inside as well.
So the most difficult thing for an aircraft to land in Tegucigalpa airport is the approaching operation because the mountains all around make it very hard. When you are about to land in Tegucigalpa, you think that the airplane is still trying to get in a leveled position, but even before you get a completely leveled position you feel that the airplane has already touched ground.
Right when the aircraft touches ground, you have to grab yourself very hard to your seat and be prepared for a tough brake operation from the aircraft. Remember that the runway is not very long, so brakes are immediately applied.
One common thing from the passengers landing in Tegucigalpa, is to give the pilot a big round of applause just after the aircraft has made it with the landing.
Even with all these situations, international airlines fly to Tegucigalpa every day. We have flights from American Airlines, Continental, Copa and Taca among a few others. I've landed in Tegucigalpa so many times that I can not remember.
As far as I know any pilot who flies to Tegucigalpa and makes a landing operation is a pilot that needs to be previously certified, not any pilot can land a commercial jet aircraft in Tegucigalpa.
So, now you know that if you ever want to get to Tegucigalpa by airplane, don´t worry too much, you just have to be aware that the landing will be pretty tough, be prepared to grab hard to your seat and don´t forget the applause to the pilot. As for the History Channel ranking, I agree that Tegucigalpa airport is not exactly the safest airport in the world, but I think they were too hard on listing Tegucigalpa airport as number 2 in the world, I'm sure there are several other airports that could be in that position.
On the other hand, if you ever want to visit Honduras but you feel worried about landing in Tegucigalpa, you have the choice to land in San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba or Roatan as well. All those other airports have no issues at all, and all of them are international airports too.