‘Build one mile of highway and it will take you just one mile…but a mile of runway will take you anywhere,’ – this is a saying that people in the aviation world love to repeat. Of course, in reality, the largest jets need closer to two miles of runway, and ‘anywhere’ is restricted to fuel and weight limitations. What are the longest runways in the world, and why do we need them?
Why do we need long runways?
At the most basic level, long runways are needed to allow an aircraft to accelerate to an acceptable speed that will produce lift and become airborne. In general, the larger and heavier the plane is, the more speed is required, and therefore, more runway length needed.
Therefore, when it comes to aircraft operations, the longer the runway, the better.
Qamdo Bamda: The world’s longest runway?
Our research leads us to believe that China’s Qamdo Bamda Airport has the world’s longest runway at 5,500 meters. Located in south-central China, nestled in the eastern portion of the Himalayan mountain range north of Myanmar, the runway’s length is a necessity due to its high altitude.
In fact, the airport and runway are situated 4,400 meters above sea level. As we alluded to above, high altitude affects engine performance and the ability for wings to acquire the lift needed to get the aircraft airborne.
It’s possible that this “was” the world’s longest runway as some reports note that the 5,500-meter runway was closed and replaced by a 4,500-meter runway.
Zhukovsky International Airport
At 5,400 meters, Moscow’s Zhukovsky International Airport has the second-longest runway in the world (or first, depending on the situation at Qamdo Bamda). The runway was opened in 2016, with Zhukovsky serving as Moscow’s fourth international airport (along with Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukovo).
At any rate, the airport’s runway stands as the longest in Europe and will have no problem at all handling a fully loaded Airbus A380 or Antonov An-225.
Other notable runways
Below are some other notably long runways around the world:
- Shigatse Peace Airport in China: 5,000 meters
- Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport in Russia: 5,000 meters
- Embraer Unidade Gavião Peixoto Airport in Brazil: 4,967 meters
Further down the list, but within 100 meters of Embraer Unidade Gavião Peixoto Airport, you’ll find the runways of Upington (South Africa), Denver (USA), and Doha (Qatar).