As countries like Belgium consider closing some airports, due to costs and environmental concerns, what can we learn from places that manage to get by with no airports whatsoever? There are five countries, or sovereign city-state, in the world in this position.
Whether it comes down to geography or size limitations (such as mountainous terrain that makes building a landing strip difficult), or the sheer cost of creating and maintaining an airport and all its security, most find relying on the proximity of an airport in neighbouring territories is just a more viable option.
Some sources say the name “Andorra” comes from the “indigenous (Navarrese) ‘andurrial’, meaning “shrub-covered land.” Sized at about 468 square kilometres (181 square miles), it is the largest country with no airport but is still classed as a “microstate”.
What Andorra lacks in area though, it makes up for in height. Lodged in the heart of the Pyrenees, the whole country is mountainous. It has an average elevation of 1,996 metres (6,549 feet) and boasts 65 mountain peaks, making it a skiers’ and hikers’ dream. Indeed the country’s economy is driven by leisure, tourism and tax-favourable shopping. The problem is getting there, which for most people has to be done by road from France or Spain, though for those who can afford it, there are three heliports offering commercial helicopter services.
The nearest major airports are also borrowed from the neighbours: Toulouse-Blagnac (TLS), Carcassonne (CCF), and Perpignan (PGF) in southwest France are all under 200km (124 miles) away. Josep Tarradellas Barcelona–El Prat Airport (BCN) in northern Spain is just over 200 km away. Just 12 km (7.5 miles) over the border into Spain, there’s another option too: Andorra–La Seu d’Urgell Airport (LEU), the main hub for Andorra Airlines, now mainly serving Madrid.
Next in the alphabet and in size is Lichtenstein (160 sq km or 62 square miles). It’s another European microstate nestled in mountainous territory, over in the Alps this time between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is German-speaking and uses the Swiss Franc. It shares many things in common with Andorra, enjoying a special relationship with the EU and has an economy that is largely tourism and financial services based. It has no airport but does have a heliport in the southern town of Balzers.
Nearby airports include St. Gallen–Altenrhein Airport (ACH) (50 kilometres or 30 miles away) in Switzerland and Friedrichshafen Airport (FDH) in Germany (about 94 km or 60 miles) but “they offer only a limited number of scheduled flights,” points out Simple Flying, which recommends potential visitors look into Zürich Airport (ZRH) in Switzerland, which offers rail connections to Buchs and Sargans and is 130 km (80 miles) away.
Unlike double-landlocked Liechtenstein, Monaco city-state is famously on the French Riviera so enjoys a sparkling Mediterranean coastline and is bordered on the other three sides by France.
Monaco is tiny, the second-smallest country in the world at just 2.02 sq km (0.78 square miles), or a third of the size of New York’s Central Park. Its population of around 36,000 benefits from zero direct income tax, making it a haven for those super-rich who don’t wish to pay their share. Indeed, you must deposit and keep half a million euros in a bank there to even be considered for Monégasque residency. Your flying in-and-out options are the Côte d’Azur Airport (NCE) in Nice, France, about 30 km (18.6 miles) away or Genoa Airport (GOA) and Turin Airport (TRN) in Italy. Alternatively there is one heliport located in the district of Fontvieille, unless you have a private helipad of course.
San Marino claims to be the oldest sovereign state, founded in 301 AD. It is landlocked by Italy, but only 10 km away from the Adriatic coastal city of Rimini. Its small size (61 sq km or 24 sq miles) and hilly topography mean no major airport for fixed wing transport is possible, so, apart from one private airstrip in Torraccia and an international heliport located in Borgo Maggiore, it relies on Rimini’s Federico Fellini International Airport (RMI)
Again, luxury tourism and shopping and financial services are its bread and butter, or should we say champagne and caviar, seeing as it has one of the highest GDPs in the world? Surprisingly perhaps, it had the world’s first democratically elected communist government between 1945 and 1957.
Another country enveloped by Italy (and indeed Rome), Vatican City is not blessed with any airports or highways. At less than half a square kilometre, fitting a runway, let alone an airport within its supposedly holy confines would be a miracle.
Rome’s Ciampino–G. B. Pastine International Airport (CIA) and Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO) are the way in then, unless the Pope lets you use his personal heliport, usually reserved for heads of state.