Underwater airport

At Barra Airport, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, you cannot land at high tide.

Plane landed at Barra Aiport
Steve Houldsworth, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A couple of years ago I wrote about the awkward landings at Gibraltar’s international airport, which has a main trunk line road crossing the runway. Gisborne Airport in New Zealand, Manakara Airport in Madagascar, and Bacha Khan International Airport in Pakistan, all have train tracks crossing the runway. Well, I found an airport that’s even more challenging.

Barra is a small island in the southern part of the Outer Hebrides. People have been living there for a long time: neolithic settlers and Vikings, pirates and Scots. At one point (as part of the Highland Clearances) most of the population was kicked out, and replaced with sheep and English lords. Now the population is about a thousand, and summer tourism is their bread and butter. Which means they need an airport.

Barra’s airport has no runway. Well, technically it has three runways, but none of them are traditional runways of asphalt or concrete. None of them have painted markings. And none of them exist at high tide.

Yep, if you land at Barra Airport, you’re landing on the beach. When the tide is out, airport workers put out a windsock and wait for the planes from Glasgow to arrive. The windsock also lets the locals know that they should keep off the beach, unless they want a very close haircut.

This is the only airport in the world where the runway is sometimes underwater. Even at low tide there’s a lot of water on the beach, which makes for some dramatic splashes. (All this is not to say that planes don’t land on beaches anywhere else… but those don’t normally include public scheduled flights.)

You can see a plane landing in this video:

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