Coming into land is a magical aviation moment – no matter how many times you’ve flown (in my case that’s many, both as pilot and passenger). Every landing is filled with the promise of discovery or rediscovery. And there’s nothing quite like the feeling on final approach, when you get a first glimpse of your destination.

Some approaches are more impressive than others of course. And that’s why every year PrivateFly reveals the top 10 most beautiful airport arrivals in the world – determined by travellers and aviation enthusiasts from around the globe.

You can have your say by taking part in our #ScenicAirports 2016 poll (and you could win a GoPro Hero4 camera at the same time – perfect for capturing your next stunning landing).

Our shortlist includes a wide variety of airport settings. But airports next to the sea are always impressive, their runways standing out against a backdrop of surrounding water. Here are some of the world’s most beautiful island and beach airports, shortlisted by our judges in this year’s poll.

See the full 2016 shortlist here and vote for your own favourite airport approach. 

The Caribbean & Bahamas, a paradise for private jets

In the Caribbean, some airport landings are so beautiful that aviation enthusiasts spend hours trying to capture the perfect photo or video of aircraft landing.

I am not immune to this myself – and neither are several other members of the PrivateFly team. You can discover our videos on our PrivateFly YouTube channel.

For true AvGeeks, we have even created the ultimate Caribbean itinerary, to experience some of these world-beating landings for yourself.

St Barts and St Martin are well known for their sensational approaches, but lesser-known is nearby Saba. The tiny island airport holds the record for the smallest commercial runway in the world.

Saba airport

The island of Saba in the Caribbean, home to the world’s shortest runway

Travel writer and blogger Christine Negroni explains: “Restricted due to its status as the world’s shortest commercial runway to captain-only landings. But don’t spent too much time watching the pilot work, because you don’t want to miss the magnificent views of the sea and the tiny mountainous island and the fleeting glimpse of the teeny tiny landing strip on which you will come to an abrupt stop!

In the Netherland Antilles, Aruba is the perfect destination for tourists seeking golden beaches, turquoise waters and luxury hotels. The idyllic arrival sets the tone for this popular holiday island.


Aruba’s idyllic arrival sets the tone of the island

Further north, the Bahamas are a popular destination, especially with American travellers. The islands offer beautiful beaches and sea views and this year in our poll, it’s the airport of Staniel Cay which was shortlisted by our judges.

Staniel Cay Airport

Staniel Cay Airport in the Bahamas has been shortlisted in this year’s PrivateFly poll.

Beautiful European beachside landings

It’s not all about the Caribbean. Europe also has its share of stunning beaches too.

Gibraltar Airport is a personal favourite of mine. On arrival at the Rock, you can see both the coast and the beauty of the peninsula. It’s a fabulously visual experience on approach – an exhilarating landing for pilots and passengers alike.

Gibraltar Airport

Gibraltar Airport is one of Europe’s most stunning beachside landings

Another European landing that requires specific pilot expertise is the unique beach runway at Barra, in the Hebrides, winner of the PrivateFly Scenic Airports poll in 2012.

Only turboprop aircraft can land on this Scottish beachfront airstrip, during low tide and daylight hours – as there’s no runway lighting in this remote spot.

Barra beach landing

Barra’s unique beach landing.

Across the channel, France is home to one of the best seaside approaches in the world, Nice Côte d’Azur. The airport is a popular destination with both airline and private aviation flights – handling about 30,000 private jet movements every year, putting it third in Europe’s busiest private jet airports.

Nice Côte d’Azur was our Scenic Airports survey winner in 2014. The arrival is “truly spectacular, between the blue Mediterranean and the mountains,” says Sylvie Peron, publisher of Altitudes Europe.

Nice Airport

Nice Cote D’Azur Airport is a stunning gateway to the South of France.

Treasures of the Indian Ocean

Malé airport in the Maldives is an island unto itself. The runway covers the length of Hulhulé island, which makes for a truly impressive landing, surrounded by water and glimpses of other nearby islands. “Seeing each teeny tiny island fills you with excitement, as you wonder which one will be yours.” said Ana Silva O’Reilly, aka travel blogger Mrs O Around the World.

Male Maldives Airport

Male’s airport runway is surrounded by the Indian Ocean.

Sir Gaetan Duval Rodrigues near Madagascar is the choice of GQ journalist Charles Audier. “The contrast between the bright red land, the turquoise lagoon and the intense green of the jungle strikes the passengers watching from the windows. The island is lost in the middle of the Indian Ocean near Mauritius.”

This was a view that was until recently reserved only for smaller aircraft. But recent innovations now allow large aircraft to land on Rodrigues.

Sir Gaetan Duval Airport

Sir Gaetan Duval Rodrigues Airport offers a contrast of sea and jungle.


The islands of the Pacific

The Pacific Ocean is renowned for its incredible aerial approaches. This part of the world is home to the airport of Queenstown in New Zealand, which was elected the most Scenic Airport in the world last year.

Not far away from there, planted in the middle of the Pacific, is Aitutaki Airport, in the Cook Islands. This is “one of the most beautiful atolls in the world” according to journalist and blogger Lee Abbamonte, and it certainly offers a dramatically beautiful view from above.

Aitutaki in the Cook Islands

Aitutaki Airport in the Cook Islands offers a stunning view from the air.

Then there’s Australia’s Hamilton Island, where the runway stops just short of the ocean at either end. If you’re a little nervous about landing, it’s probably best to look east or west, over the largest uninhabited island in Australia. But for thrill seekers, keep your eyes forward, and watch your aircraft come to a stop just inches from the turquoise ocean.

Hamilton Island Airport

Australia’s Hamilton Island Airport is not for the faint hearted.

Or the Antarctic?

And finally, for those who prefer a colder ocean setting, Antartica’s Ice Runway allows you to land directly on the sea ice.

Antartica ice runway

Antartica’s ice runway offers a very different ocean view.

It is built each year on the Antarctic ice and used until December, when the ice melts. The photographer and pilot Maxime Pagnoux says: “A runway in the middle of nowhere built on the ice. As hard as concrete but a little more slippery!”

Now it’s time to cast your vote for your favourite scenic airport approach. For private jet prices and itineraries to any of these airports, contact us or call our Flight Team (24 hours) on +44 1747 642 777.