The 2 Reasons why Madeira Airport is so Dangerous

Usually listed as one of the most dangerous airports in the world, Madeira Airport on the island of Madeira definitely has got some security issues. However, thanks to the professionalism of the pilots, and the safety of all the processes involved during both takeoff and landing, there have not been any major issues recently. Still, the question can still be answered: why is Madeira Airport so dangerous?

Madeira Airport is dangerous for two major reasons: the runway and weather conditions. The runway is really narrow, and the winds can blow very hard.

Why is Madeira Airport dangerous?

  • Madeira Airport Runway was too short
  • The wind blows hard in Madeira Airport

Reason 1: Madeira Airport Runway was too short

The runway of Madeira Airport is historically a bad place to land. In 1977, a terrible accident occurred.

Crash of a Boeing 727-282 in Funchal: 131 killed

On November 19, 1977, a Boeing 727-282 operating a regular flight from Brussels to Madeira crashes. The Boeing overran the runway and crashed on a beach, causing the explosion of the plane. This crash killed 131 of the 164 passengers.

Shortly after this crash, the runway was extended. The issue is that the airport is built on a cliff and that there is no land to extend the runway. The solution chosen was to add pillars to support an extension.

But, even after the extension of the runway, Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira International Airport (the official name of the airport) still remains one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Why is it the case? Because of weather conditions that can hit Madeira.

Indeed, the crash of Boeing 727-282 was also due to the very unfavorable weather conditions. There was a possible existence of hydroplaning conditions on that day.

Reason 2: Wind makes Madeira Airport dangerous

Funchal Airport is also known for its poor weather conditions to land. Indeed, wind can blow very harshly in every direction. To represent yourself what I mean by strong winds, I recommend that you watch the following video of extreme landings in Madeira.

Video from Aviation Channel 2010.

Of course, this is not the weather every day. On the other hand, this does not only happen once a year. The wind is a recurrent issue for planes when it comes to landing in Madeira.

In order to avoid crashes, airlines now ask experienced pilots to fly to Madeira. This decision was taken after another tragic accident which happened in Madeira: The crash of a Sud-Aviation SE-210 Caravelle 10R.

Crash of a Sud-Aviation SE-210 Caravelle 10R off Funchal: 36 killed

In December 1977, a plane from Zurich crashed in the sea on approach to Funchal. This was due to an altimeter error, made by the pilots. At the time the plane touched the sea, the altimeter was indicating 150 meters, showing that it was wrongly calibrated. How did the pilots not see the water? Because that landing was at night time.

Basically, there were two pilots on that flight. The one in the left-seat never landed in Funchal and was here for training. He was the one driving the plane. The pilot in the right-seat was an experienced pilot acting as the co-pilot.

The training was intended to take place during the daytime, but due to a delay, the aircraft reached its destination after the sunset.

The crash of this plane killed 36 of the 57 people on board.

Even if that crash was not due to the wind, it is the one that helped airlines make big decisions about Madeira Airport. Nowadays, only hardened pilots fly here.

island of madeira viewed from a plane under blue sky
Madeira viewed from a place. Picture from Márcio Sousa.

Is it safe to land in Madeira Airport?

The beginning of the article may have scared you. But, let’s now be objective. There has been no accident in Madeira caused by the airport since 1977.

The mention “caused by the airport” is here because a Beechcraft 200 Super King Air crashed in 2003 shortly after takeoff in Funchal. However, it is impossible to know what happened. Spatial disorientation of the pilot after touching the water is evoked by some media.

In 1977, there have been two major accidents that we talked about earlier. But that’s it. There has been no other accident in Madeira Airport since then (I am writing this on the 5th of August 2020, note that there could be an accident after that date).

If you want to see the list of all plane crashes in Madeira, you can click this link which will bring you to The Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives of Madeira Airport.

Keep in mind the following statistic when booking a plane ticket.

Statistically, your chances of being in a fatal plane crash are extremely low, better than 1 in 12 million, according to some estimates.

From How Safe is Air Travel in 2020,

I hope that this piece of data relieves you and that you will accept taking the plane after reading it. We no longer live in the 70s, and plane crashes due to technical issues keep becoming rarer.

The last plane crashes are due to sabotage and terrorism, and not anymore because of inexperienced pilots. However, keep in mind that I am writing this on the 5th of August 2020 and that things could happen since then.

Are there alternatives to get to Madeira?

On this day, there are no real alternatives to get to Madeira. The only other option would be a ferry. But the Naviera ARMAS from Portimão to Funchal port is not operating at the moment.

If the plane is too dangerous for you, and if you can’t handle the fear of landing in Madeira Airport, the best is probably to pick another destination. Or, if you really want to visit Madeira, to accept the very little probability of being in a fatal accident.

If you consider visiting Madeira, you can check three different things:

Also, if you are now feeling better about visiting Madeira, I recommend that you read the article I wrote about visiting Madeira. It will tell you about the cities to wander, the mountains to hike, and the places to enjoy.

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