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Donegal Airport, on Ireland’s northwest Atlantic coast, garnered the most votes in PrivateFly’s recent survey of travellers to determine the world’s most scenic airports. More than 8,500 votes were cast in the poll, and 112 different airports received at least one vote. PrivateFly is a web-based global charter broker that is headquartered in England, which enlisted a panel of travel and private-aviation experts to create a list of candidates for voters to consider. This is what they thought.
1. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba, Dutch Antilles
At merely 395m long, the airport’s runway is the world’s shortest commercial runway. It is flanked on one side by high hills, and at either end are cliffs that drop into the sea. Because of the runway’s length, only small aircraft and helicopters can use the airport. “It looks like you are landing on an aircraft carrier," wrote one voter. Another commented, “Having the mountain on the right, ocean on the left, and cliffs at both ends of the runway makes for an awe-inspiring landing."
2. Queenstown Airport, New Zealand
The airport is adjacent to the resort town of Queenstown and set among mountains, lakes and rivers. It opened in 1935 and began accommodating commercial flights in the 1950s. Runway lights weren’t installed until 2011, so before then, aircraft could land and take off only during daylight hours. “I have flown to many places in the world," noted one voter, “but emerging from the clouds and finding yourself right between stunning snowcapped mountains on either side, with the beautiful Lake Wakatipu stretching out in front of you, is just magic."
3. Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, France
Located just a few kilometres southwest of Nice, the airport is the main point of arrival for travellers to the French Riviera. It handled more than 13 million passengers in 2017, making it the third busiest airport in France. Because of its proximity to Monaco, it also serves as the principality’s primary airport. “A magical approach above the sea, with the Lérins Islands and the clouds clinging to the Alps, which from the sky look so close," wrote one voter. “Could we dream of a better prelude before landing in the most beautiful city in the world?"
4. Barra Airport, Scotland
Barra Airport’s operating hours depend on the tides, because at high tide, the runways are under water. Located in the wide, shallow bay of Traigh Mhòr at the northern tip of the island of Barra in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, it is said to be the world’s only airport where flights land and take off from a beach. It has three runways, which are marked by wooden poles in the sand and can accommodate only small prop planes. Barra has been recognised as an airport since 1936. In describing the landing experience, one voter wrote, “Romantically remote and properly unique. The seawater splashes up all over the plane as it lands, often in 10cm of water. Sometimes you have to disembark onto wet rivulets of sand and seawater pools. Nowhere else in the world will you find a shark cleared off the runway."
5. Donegal Airport, Ireland
Donegal Airport, which finished in the top 20 in PrivateFly’s 2013 poll of travellers’ favourite airport approaches, opened in 1986, when what had been just a grass landing strip was replaced with a hard-surface runway that is now 1,395m and can accommodate regional airliners as well as prop planes and private jets. The airport is located in the town of Carrickfinn, and among County Donegal residents it’s popularly known as Carrickfinn Airport. According to one voter, “You fly in low over the tiny airport building with Errigal mountain on your right and sweep out over an emerald sea with the white froth of the Atlantic lashing the many tiny rocky islands. Then the pilot completes his turn and dashes back towards the crescent of golden sand that is Carrickfinn beach." Another voter wrote, “Spectacular views of the Atlantic coastline, the beautiful Mount Errigal, and a beach that is the most stunning in the world."