Tackling the Top 10 Most Challenging U.S. Airports

Even with the most gentle of approaches, landing an airliner or business jet full of passengers is the most stressful part of the job for most pilots. Now imagine the determination it takes to safely land in adverse conditions like turbulence, brutal crosswinds, inclement weather and mountainous terrain as well as busy runways and taxiways.

That’s just daily life at these 10 U.S. airports* — each possessing some of the most challenging approaches and landings in the United States.

Most Challenging U.S. Airports

1.       Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (Aspen, Colorado)

2.       Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport (Bullhead City, Arizona)

3.       Bert Mooney Airport (Butte, Montana)

4.       Yellowstone Regional Airport (Cody, Wyoming)

5.       Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (Washington, D.C.)

6.       Juneau International Airport (Juneau, Alaska)

7.       LaGuardia Airport (Queens, New York)

8.       Mammoth Yosemite Airport (Mammoth Lakes, California)

9.       San Diego International Airport (San Diego)

10.   Telluride Regional Airport (Telluride, Colorado)

* Honeywell selected a combination of special qualification airports from the Federal Aviation Administration and airports that Honeywell’s experts and pilots find challenging. 

Preflight on the ground

The use of iPads and other tablets in the cockpit has grown rapidly in the past five years and continues to grow. Starting with flight planning, apps such as Honeywell’s GoDirect Flight Preview aid pilots by increasing their situational awareness around a destination airport.


Honeywell GoDirect Flight Preview runway approach into Mammoth Yosemite Airport.

Imagine never having flown into one of these challenging airports. The app provides pilots with a unique view of an approach, with runway highlights, waypoints and altitude constraints rendered in a 3-D view, which no other approach application currently offers, enhancing realism and the comfort of getting into an either known or unknown, but challenging, airport destination.

Simply put, flight safety starts on the ground. Runway incursions (an incident in which an unauthorized aircraft, vehicle or person is on a runway) are a leading cause of aviation fatalities and account for approximately $1 billion annually in aircraft damages. To help prevent such close calls and collisions, Honeywell developed its Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS) that improves runway situational awareness. RAAS and the latest SmartRunway® and SmartLanding® increase situational awareness during taxiing and preparing for takeoff and landing with aural and visual advisories.

In the sky

Having a clear and intuitive means of understanding the flying environment is critical for pilots, but never more so when that airport is especially dangerous to get in and out of.

Enter synthetic vision systems, essentially a colorful, digitized display of the terrain that uses data from onboard sensors and databases to render a 3-D image of the environment outside an aircraft, making it easier for pilots to land in any weather conditions. Honeywell’s SmartView® Synthetic Vision System provides pilots with a clear depiction of the outdoor terrain and potential obstacles exactly as they would see them looking out the cockpit, regardless of outdoor weather conditions. The system provides a “clear view” of the outside world even during darkness, in the clouds and during poor weather. The business aviation market currently employs synthetic vision, and airlines are starting to have access to this technology through Embraer®’s E-Jet E2.


The Weather Information Service app satellite observation of a flight plan over the Atlantic.

Flying in freezing temperatures can result in ice accumulation around the engine or flight control surfaces, creating additional hazards for pilots. Honeywell provides expertise and equipment to prevent the adverse impacts of ice accumulation on aircraft flight surfaces and within engines.

The Weather Information Service (WIS) app can also detect storms and turbulence by providing up-to-date weather data (along route, in areas of interest, etc.) to help pilots make strategic decisions, both in-flight and while landing. It uses real-time weather and trend information from the cockpit as well as enhanced communication including current weather, historical weather patterns and weather forecasts to assist the flight crew in strategic decision-making that leads to a safe landing in any weather conditions.


Landing is one of the most critical phases of flight. Freeing pilots from reliance on ground-based navigational aids is Required Navigation Performance (RNP), a technology that provides pilots with a precise, even curved and potentially steeper approach into the runway using satellite navigation. Moreover, it helps airlines and operators save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions and flight time. While not all airports are equipped with RNP, four out of 10 airports boast RNP because they require a very high level of navigational accuracy.

Ultimately, while the terrain and weather conditions at these airports will not change anytime soon, the good news is that with advanced technologies pilots are now better equipped to tackle these tough airports and make a smooth landing.

Download the backgrounder to learn more about the Top 10 challenging airports

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