Flying an aircraft is no easy feat at the best of times… yet alone when at altitude – the higher you go, the lower the atmospheric pressure and the harder it is to get a decent lift. Despite these challenges, mountainous areas need good transport links just like everywhere else, and airports have sprung up at some surprisingly high points across the globe.
So, let’s take a look at where the highest altitude airports can be found. You never know, you might have even passed through some of them (although if you’ve never been to China then you probably haven’t!).
Constructed 14,472 ft above sea level, Daocheng Yading Airport is the highest civilian airport in the world. It’s located in Daocheng County in the Garzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China and, although it only runs domestic flights, it connects with several international airports.
Crucially, it offers a flight to Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (located in Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province) – a trip which previously required a multiday bus journey!
Location: Daocheng County in Garzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, China
Elevation: 14,472 ft / 4,411 m
Airlines: Air China, China Southern Airlines, and Sichuan Airlines
Fun fact: This is the highest civilian airport in the world!
Coming in a very close second on the list of the highest altitude airports is the Qamdo Bamda Airport, constructed 14,219 ft above sea level. Somewhat confusingly, this airport is also known as the Changdu Bangda Airport because of its location in Bangda village (which is in Qamdo, part of the Tibet Autonomous Region, China).
Not only is this airport super high, but’s also home to the longest runway in the world, which stretches an impressive 18,045 ft (5,500 m).
Location: Qamdo, in the autonomous region of Tibet, China
Elevation: 14,219 ft / 4,334 m
Airlines: Air China, China Southern Airlines, and Tibet Airlines
Fun fact: Home to the world’s longest runway
The city of Garze is home to the third-highest airport in the world, the Kangding Airport. It’s elevated 14,042 ft above sea level, making it one of the highest commercial airports in the world, and runs flights operated via Lucky Air and Sichuan Airlines. As well as 330,000 annual passengers, 1,980 tonnes of cargo are also transported from this airport.
Location: Garze, Sichuan Province, China
Elevation: 14,042 ft / 4,280 m
Airlines: Lucky Air and Sichuan Airlines
The Ngari Gunsa Airport is located at almost the same elevation as the Kangding Airport (14,022 ft vs 14,042 ft) and is again located in China. It runs both military and commercial flights, and it is strategically placed to provide access to Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash, which are considered sacred sites by those practicing Hinduism, Bon, Buddhism, and Jainism.
Location: Shiquanhe, Ngari Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China
Elevation: 14,022 ft / 4,274 m
Airlines: China Eastern, Tibetan Airlines, and Lucky Air
Fun fact: Both military and civilian flights depart from this airport
The Garze Gesar Airport has only been operational since 2019 and is (Surprise surprise) located in China. The building of this airport was a costly process (over 3 million US dollars in total!), but the airport features a runway of 4,000m and is capable of transiting 150,0000 passengers annually
Location: Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, China
Elevation: 13,346 ft / 4,068 m
Airline: Sichuan Airlines
Introducing the first airport outside of China to make it onto our list, the El Alto International Airport (also the highest international airport in the world). It can be found 13,325 ft above sea level and is situated in the city of El Alto, Bolivia.
As well as transporting passengers from A to B, this airport is also used as a testing ground for aircrafts produced by manufacturers including Boeing – the high altitude makes it a great place to get to grips with tricky high-altitude landings and take-offs.
Location: El Alto, Bolivia
Elevation: 13,325 ft / 4,061.5 m
Airlines: Amaszonas, Avianca, Boliviana de Aviación, EcoJet, LATAM Chile, LATAM Perú
Fun fact: El Alto International Airport is the highest international airport in the world
The Uyuni Airport is again located in Bolivia, and it takes its name from the nearby Salar de Uyuni salt flats – which makes for a truly spectacular view for anyone peeking out their window on a clear day.
It’s located 12,972 ft above sea level and has two platforms – one is for commercial and one is for military flights. At present, it only offers domestic commercial flights running to and from Sucre, La Paz, and Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
Location: Potosí Department, Bolivia
Elevation: 12,972 ft / 3,954 m
Airlines: Amaszonas, Boliviana de Aviación,
Fun fact: The Uyuni airport is named after the nearby salt flat, Salar de Uyuni – the largest salt flat in the world
Sticking with Bolivia for the time being, the Captain Nicolas Rojas Airport is next on our list and is located in the city of Potosí (capital of the district). At 12,913 ft, it’s a fair bit lower than the Uyuni Airport, and we’re now dropping below the 3,000 m mark (2,833 m).
In case taking off at altitude wasn’t hard enough, this airport is located within a valley (albeit a shallow one), making the skill of the pilots even more impressive. Currently, it only runs flights operated by Boliviana de Aviación airlines.
Location: Potosí, Bolivia
Elevation: 12,913 ft / 2,833 m
Airline: Boliviana de Aviación
And back to China we go. The Yushu Batang Airport connects Yushi City in China’s Qinghai Province to Beijing, Chengdu, and Lhasa. It’s located 12,762 ft above sea level but is better known for its role during the 2010 Yushu earthquake – in the aftermath, it rapidly resumed operations in order to bring in much-needed emergency supplies and personnel.
Location: Yushu City in Qinghai Province, China
Elevation: 12,762 ft / 3,890 m
Airlines: Beijing Capital Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Tibet Airlines
So, there you have it, the highest altitude airports across the globe. In the past, taking off at such heights was near impossible but, thanks to new technologies, aircrafts are now able to operate in even the most challenging of environments. As globalization and world travel continue to rise (albeit with a slight corona-induced pause at the moment), don’t be surprised if you see more and more airports sprouting up in unlikely places!