For a commercial pilot, final approach and landing represent the most challenging aspects of the work, and come with the most accidents. Honeywell Aerospace, a major aircraft avionics producer that’s part of Honeywell International, polled its pilots for their views on some of the most challenging US venues. The list is not ranked in terms of difficulty, but Aspen/Pitkin County is widely known to pose a serious challenge for aviators, and got a special nod from more than a dozen Honeywell pilots who were polled. Among others where the approach and landing can regularly be a hassle: Juneau; New York’s LaGuardia; Washington’s Reagan National; and San Diego airport.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport
Few airports challenge a pilot to the same headache-inducing degree as Aspen, playground for the rich and famous. The approach involves descending into a narrow space surrounded on two sides by mountains and frequent cloud cover. On top of all that, the winds can shift rapidly, and gust wickedly. The Aspen approach is "like shooting through a mine shaft" with little margin for error, one pilot told the Los Angeles Times in 2001.
In March 2001, 18 people died when their Gulfstream charter jet from Los Angeles, flying off course, crashed into terrain short of the runway. Investigators cited numerous pilot errors during the nighttime approach. A private jet pilot also was killed in January 2014 during a failed approach. In the winter ski season, pilots must keep close watch on the minimum approach conditions, as weather can deteriorate rapidly.
Juneau International Airport
Surrounded by mountainous terrain, Juneau wins raves as a picturesque city but occasional jeers from pilots. The area also has an abundance of cloudy, drizzly weather, with low cloud ceilings.
New York City
Ten miles east of Manhattan, LaGuardia sits beneath some of the world’s most congested airspace, with two major international hubs just a few miles southeast (John F Kennedy) and south-west (Newark Liberty). It also has a high-density flow of traffic – about 17 hours per day – owing to its location as the closest of all three to Manhattan.
Mammoth Yosemite Airport
Mammoth Lakes, California
Mammoth Yosemite lies in a box canyon hard east of several major peaks in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, including the namesake ski resort.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
The District of Columbia has plenty of restricted, heavily guarded airspace. Veer off course or ignore air traffic control near the Capitol and you will quickly find a fighter jet on your wing. These defences also require some sharp 30 to 40 degree turns along the Potomac River when flying the "River Visual" approach to Reagan National Airport.
San Diego International Airport
San Diego, California
Pilots report frequent gusty tailwinds that can require quick adjustments on approach. Arriving flights typically land to the west.
Telluride Regional Airport
At 9,070 feet, Telluride is the highest-elevation commercial airport in America. It also features 1,000-foot cliffs on both ends of the runway and strong vertical turbulence during winter months caused by the mountain winds. "Nothing you want to do tomorrow is worth risking your life and the lives of your passengers for today!" the Telluride airport says in a notice to pilots.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter