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Difficult Approach + Short Runway = Challenge

By Ryan Bert
April 29, 2001

Tegucigalpa - Toncontin Int'l Airport (TGU) in Honduras, though small and challenging, holds a special place in the heart of pilots and spotters alike. Let one of its most dedicated spotters tell you why.

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TAN 737 turning to align with runway 01 for takeoff
Photo © William L.B.J. Dekker


Tegucigalpa is the capital city of Honduras. The international airport there is one of extreme interest because of its difficult approach and because of its surprisingly short runway. There are many unknown facts about this airport.

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Dagerously close to that pine tree is a
SAHSA 727 on finals for runway 01
Photo © Scott Stache


Toncontín International Airport is more commonly known as Tegucigalpa airport. Tegucigalpa is actually a misnomer in the essence that the airport is actually located in Tegucigalpa’s sister city, Comayaguela. The runway at TGU is only 6,132 ft (1869 m) long. The airport was built on a plateau in the city. Tegucigalpa itself is situated in a basin between several tall mountains. This unique location allows for some spectacular approaches and interesting landings.

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Gates 2 and 3 of Toncontin International Airport
Photo © Thomas D. Mayes, Jr.


The approach into TGU is breathtaking. Up until a few years ago there used to be a small hill some 200 ft (60 m) from the runway. Planes used to have to fly low, ascend the mountain, and descend into TGU. That hill was bulldozed during the early 1990’s. Now the approach into TGU is just as interesting and not as dangerous. An airplane landing at runway 01 at TGU must circle inside the basin below the mountaintops. It is very interesting to look up at the wing and still see trees and mountains while being banked the other way. After it circles the basin it has only 100-200 ft (30-60 m) to line up before the runway. Because of the short runway as soon as the plane crosses the fence separating the airport property and the highway, it must make contact. The runway has a “displaced threshold” leaving only 5,436 ft (1657 m) of useable landing runway. That short runway, coupled with a 1.06º downhill slope on runway 01, allows for little braking time.

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N88705 that crashed at Toncontín 1989.
Photo © Adriaan Lengkeek


Many accidents have occurred here at Toncontín airport. The most notable one was that of a TAN (Transportes Aereos Nacionales)/SAHSA (Servicíos Aereos de Honduras S.A.) Boeing 727-200 (N88705) into a mountain in 1989. The Boeing 727 had drifted from its VOR/DME to Runway 01. It crashed into Cerro de Hule (Translated into “rubber hill”) some 5,000 ft (1524 m) from the runway. This crashed killed 123 of the 138 passengers on board and half of the 8-member crew. Back in June of 1999, an American Airlines 757 struck the fence that separates the highway and the runway. “It was a difficult ordeal,” said one of the passengers, who was onboard and he vowed not to fly into TGU ever again. A year later he was on a flight into TGU and got teary eyed and scared once the approach began. The most recent accident occurred on February 3, 2001. Fortunately no one on board was injured or killed. The TACA Airbus A320, N465(PA/TA), suffered from a reverse thrust malfunction once on the ground. The pilots are to be considered the heroes. Had they not turned the airplane onto the closest taxiway to the end of the runway, they may have gone over the cliff, which is found only 100 ft (30 m) from the end of the runway.

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This is the biggest aircraft that flies to TGU
Photo © Thomas D. Mayes, Jr.


The runway here in TGU is very short compared with many runways in other countries. It is the second smallest international airport in the world. The actual length of the runway is 6,132 feet (1869 m). It was built on a plateau in the basin that holds Tegucigalpa and Comayaguela. Takeoffs here are really awesome. The airliner sits at the end of the runway with the parking brakes on and adds full throttle to the aircraft. After about 5-10 seconds the pilots release the brakes and you are hurled down the runway and leap into the sky with only a 1000-1500 feet (300-460 m) of runway left. It is an incredible feeling to stand on the outside beside the runway and listen to the RPM’s of the aircraft taking off.

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SAHSA 727 following the VOR/DME into runway 01
Photo © William L.B.J. Dekker


Almost every single landing and takeoff at TGU interrupts the flow of traffic along Boulevard hacia Loarque. There are two traffic lights on either side of the runway that stop traffic whenever an airplane takes off and lands. They do not normally stop traffic for small Cessna’s or other small propeller planes; however, for jets and turbo-props traffic is stopped. The reason traffic is stopped is because of how low the aircraft must get to the ground on approach to TGU. They didn’t always stop traffic though. It wasn’t until a few years ago when a jet struck a passenger bus on approach that they finally added the traffic lights. There is only a 4 ft (1,2 m) tall fence separating the traffic from the runway.

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SAHSA 727 on short finals to runway 01
Photo © William L.B.J. Dekker


I belive Tegucigalpa is one of the most interesting airports in the world. What a challenge for pilots to land here. How exhilarating it must be to pilot a plane in to TGU. I can’t wait for the day when I will pilot an aircraft into this beautiful airport.

Written by
Ryan Bert

Ryan Bert currently lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He is in the 11th grade at Academia Los Pinares. He is striving to become a pilot one day. He loves to fly and even to watch airplanes in general.

41 User Comments:
Username: Ikarus [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-29 12:38:56 and read 32768 times.

Great Article! Makes me want to book the next possible flight to Tegucigalpa...

Just a question: In one thread about this airport in the Tech/Ops forum, it was mentioned that it was a DC3 that crashed into a bus (and as such not actually a jet), is that correct?

Regards

Ikarus

Username: Teahan [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-29 13:57:08 and read 32768 times.

Hey,

Thanks for the great article! I definitely loved reading it.
Nice to know that there are still some more exciting airport out there after Kai Tak!

Kind Regards,
Jeremiah Teahan

Username: Mah4546 [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-29 18:00:15 and read 32768 times.

Very cool article. Thanks!

Username: Rolando [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-29 19:23:16 and read 32768 times.

The article is great. It is very informative.
i would love to go and see those approaches and take-offs myself. :)

Username: Tguman [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-29 20:38:55 and read 32768 times.

Warning to those who want to go to the end of the runway here in TGU. I (the author) was shot at today after Continental landed. i ssuggest contacting me before going to the runway here. Thank you.

Username: High_flyr69 [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-29 23:35:31 and read 32768 times.

This article has inspired me on how much skill is involved to being a pilot.Imagine the concentration when they are are on upwind leg approaching finals leg for runway 01 at TGU
For a plane crazed enthusiast like myself your time and effort for this article was well worth it WELL DONE :)

Username: Stby 1 [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-30 04:05:27 and read 32768 times.

Well done a good read !! Very good indeed.

Hope FS 2000 has TGU in it !! Am about to go and find out !!

As many have said , I would love to go and see also!

Regards

Stby 1
SYD , AUST.

Username: Mybro'sarticle [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-30 04:52:49 and read 32768 times.

That was a pretty good article. Please, we would all like for you to expand more on this shooting incedent. I have flown into Tegucigalpa myself as much as the writer and I can tell from experience it is amazaing. Once, I was flying in and we had a medical emergency. The pilots cut all the corners making it even more of an breath-taking flight. I would suggest that anyone with a passion for air and one plane ticket book a flight to Tegucigalpa and enjoy.

Username: Tguman [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-30 06:18:59 and read 32768 times.

Sorry for any scare. It was probably blanks and used to scare any spotters away from any private property. There is no harm to planes and i hope that you do not fear anymore to fly into this great city. I repeat there is no danger to the airplanes. the only thing i suggest is not get close to any private property. Security guards warned me last week. So i say once again that do not fear. that is all.
TGUMAN

Username: Dreyes78 [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-30 08:06:06 and read 32768 times.

About FS2000 scenery for TGU, there is an excellent scenery out there for TGU. It's not complete yet, but it is available as a BETA version. It has a couple of bugs that need to be worked out and a few more buildings and landmarks that need to be added. But it's mostly done. On my last trip to TGU, I took many photos both at the airport and around the city so that I can forward them to the author of the TGU scenery. When the scenery is complete, it will be an amazing scenery! The TGU scenery that came with FS2000 is nothing close to what it actually looks like. Try this scenery. It's at:

Username: Turkish B737 [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-30 16:28:58 and read 32768 times.

relly very very good article!! :) :) :)

Username: Turbulence [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-30 17:25:53 and read 32768 times.

WOW!!! :D It's a pity it is too far away from Europe for a week-end jump. If this was into reasonabily reachable distance (and affordable fares...) I'd be flying there... next saturday!!!

TGUman:
Congratulations for the descriptivity of your article and thank you for showing to the world. Now that I did miss Kai Tak, maybe this is my next objective...

Best turbulences

Username: Soku39 [User Info]
Posted 2001-04-30 23:46:56 and read 32768 times.

Just one question exactly how close is the restaurant to the apporaching planes ? thanks

Username: Tguman [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-01 01:43:12 and read 32768 times.

what restaurant?

Username: Jason1127 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-01 03:43:19 and read 32768 times.

Great article Bert!! Working for Jeppesen, I have seen these approaches before, on paper. I would love to check them out in person. Nice work.

Best Regards,
Jason Hendress

Username: Dreyes78 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-01 05:41:26 and read 32768 times.

When I was there last month, I was filming an American 757 from a spot I had never tried before. I soon found myself standing about 20 feet from a guard that fired 2 shots at a couple of men who were trying to get onto that particular property. I was at the fence of the property(on the outside of course!). I thought that after firing those rounds he was going to turn towards me and start shooting at me, but he didn't. He saw that I had a camera and he knew that I was just filming the plane. In fact, he told me I could come back and look for him and he would let me on the property to film video or shoot photos. The view from the property is much better than where I was standing. There's no fence or trees in the way. The guards are aware that there are people at the end of runway 01 watching the planes. Every time I go there, there is always a small crowd of people gathered there waiting to see the planes takeoff and land. Just be very careful where you wander off to. Just stay by the road and you should be fine. The view is fantastic and you are alot closer to the aircraft than the spot where I was at.

DREYES78

Username: Dreyes78 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-01 05:48:02 and read 32768 times.

The restaurant is no longer there. It used to be on the hill at the end of runway 01. That hill was "bulldozed during the early 1990's" as mentioned in the article. I have some shots of what it looks like now. As soon as I scan all of my photos, I'll submit them to Airliners.net and hope they accept them.

DREYES78

Username: Trintocan [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-01 05:48:13 and read 32768 times.

A very interesting article. That landing certainly looks like a hair-raiser. In the final analysis it must be said that aviation is a very varied experience worldwide, that not everywhere does one have the luxury of a long unobstructed approach and a seemingly endless runway at one's disposal.

A great article. That shooting incident sounds scary though!

Trintocan.

Username: AFC_ajax00 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-01 09:55:49 and read 32768 times.

Cool article never heard about this airport should see if i can go there one time

Username: AF A340 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-01 21:14:05 and read 32768 times.

One word:great article!
It's cool to see other airports that internationals one.
One question:There wasn't bigger than the B757 on this airport?

Username: Tguman [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-01 23:04:23 and read 32768 times.

Not that I know of. It is the biggest i have ever seen here. The B757 is great for short runways.

Username: Thomasphoto60 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-01 23:17:33 and read 32768 times.

I'll have to get down there one day, heck its only a 3 hour flight from my hometown of Houston. Ironically I am leaving for Costa Rica and Panama on Thursday, perhaps I will make a detour via TGU on my way back home.

Thomas

Username: Monocleman [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-02 00:15:50 and read 32768 times.

Amazing article. Sounds like a carrier approach without the comfort (?) of knowing you have those arrestor wires... Scary. Lets hope they dont get any microbursts anytime soon. I commend the author for his effort, being an 11th grade student.

Username: Trintocan [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-02 05:15:53 and read 32768 times.

One question though - whatever happened to TAN/SAHSA?

Trintocan.

Username: Tguman [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-02 06:00:25 and read 32768 times.

TAN/SAHSA never recovered after the 1989 crash and was later severely crippled by a 1991 or 1990 crash in Managua, Nicaragua (my true hometown) :,-(

Username: Future777pilot [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-02 22:35:46 and read 32768 times.

wow. i love that pic of the 727 flying low right above the house!! great article!!

Username: Memo-A.L.P. [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-03 03:56:54 and read 32768 times.

Great Article! Nice Work

Username: Dreyes78 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-03 04:17:39 and read 32768 times.

The 757 really is great for short runways! I've seen 737's land all the time and they use most or all of the runway to land. The 757, however, only uses just over half of the runway. That must be an awesome ride!

Username: Almaycord [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-03 22:24:48 and read 32768 times.

Very good article indeed, congratulations, took me back in time. As a former Tan-Sahsa employee I can tell you, landigs in TGU can be "exciting" and sometimes a very scary experience too! The only thing I would like to correct to the author is about the picture of the B727 that crashed on Cerro de Hule and where I lost a dear friend. The aircraft that crashed is actually the one painted in the SAHSA livery.

Username: Tguman [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-03 23:48:10 and read 32768 times.

i am sorry to hear that you lost a friend in that crash. However the picture that was shown of the plane was i think taken a few months ahead of time and according to www.aviation-safety.net the planes registration number matches the picture. I too had a friend who lost his mother and father in that crash. I am sorry that more people are reading this and may be reminded of that terrible incident.:,-( TGUMAN

Username: VH-KCT* [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-04 09:14:44 and read 32768 times.

Great article, Ryan. From one Year 11 student (and airline pilot hopeful) to another, congrats! And may you be blessed with many immediate departures. I can almost feel the tension in the cockpits on approach. Cheers!

Username: An-225 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-05 18:31:46 and read 32768 times.

Just an awesome article!

Username: Fly_emirates [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-06 02:15:56 and read 32768 times.

WOW! whata nice article..
well as a flight attendant, i experienced situations where the pilot have to slow down because the runway is short.. but I never seen such a challenging runway! i wonder how would the pilot put effort in slowing the airport, and i cant just imagine the braking and the reverse thrust when they are deployed!!

HAMAD

Username: Dreyes78 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-06 10:20:52 and read 32768 times.

The landing at TGU is AWESOME!!! First of all, you're flying low and you can see hills close by. Then you notice that you're flying really low with no sign of an airport. Then all of a sudden, you see a road with traffic stopped, a fence then a runway and you feel the power coming back to idle. Then touch down! The runway feels a little bumpy. Then the thrust reversers kick in and then you hear the loud roar of the engines at the same time you feel a tremendous amount of deceleration! You actually have to push yourself hard into the seat so that you're not leaning forward in your seat! When the plane finally stops braking, you can feel your heart pounding and your adrenaline going. For those of you who love to fly, this is the most awesome feeling, second to an actual carrier landing.

All of this is with 737's and A320's. With the 757's using less runway to stop, they must be the most impressive when flying into TGU. TGU is the greatest!

DREYES78

Username: BWIA330 [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-07 01:29:53 and read 32768 times.

This is a really great article that was very informative. I would really like to visit Toncontin International one day to see this great airport. I flew into it in FS2000 and it is a tricky landing as I have to circle arround before landing on runway 1.

Username: Wapl8s [User Info]
Posted 2001-05-07 23:18:42 and read 32768 times.

Just to say: a really great article. Thanks for the information.
Ted

Username: WreckRman2 [User Info]
Posted 2001-06-25 18:12:37 and read 32768 times.

After reading this article I, like everyone else, wanted a first hand look. Being I couldn't fly there in real life I fired up my copy of Fly!2k only to notice that I couldn't find airport id TGU.

Toncontin Int'l Airport is listed as MHTG at least in my game. Wierd...

Username: Ludavid777 [User Info]
Posted 2001-06-28 20:17:53 and read 32768 times.

I used to live in TGU until a few months ago. Taca was only aloud to have one outbound and one inbound flight per day on the days Sahsa flew, and if I'm not wrong Taca flew a Boeing 767-200 to TGU. So I would think that's the larget aircraft the airport has handled. Taca no longer flies 767 for pax service though.

Username: Sam the Lab [User Info]
Posted 2001-08-19 14:16:57 and read 32768 times.

Hi Ryan, I must commend you too for your great article on TGU. One of my favourite photos on Airliners.net is of the TAN Electra on finals to 01 taken in May, 1987. The Honduran tourist authority should place ads in some of the aviation magazines and journals to attract more aeroplane lovers to go and visit and as for that property owner does he not know he could make a small fortune by charging enthusiasts a small sum to take up positions for looking at and taking photos/film of the aircraft! I was in San Jose, Costa Rica in 1999 and the approach there to runway 25 was exciting too in the American Airlines A300 but at least we had the advantage of a nice, long runway! You say you are from Managua - what is it like for looking at the aeroplanes in that beautiful country? Thank you.

Username: Putput28 [User Info]
Posted 2001-09-05 00:09:44 and read 32768 times.

Very nice arcticle.

Challenges are good for pilots. It keeps them awake. It also gives us good pictures.

Username: Leftseat86 [User Info]
Posted 2001-10-17 19:08:31 and read 32768 times.

Nice! :D

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