In the modern world, an airport is much more than just an aircraft takeoff and landing site. Airports are synonymous with economic development in any region and a lifeline for local people. Although airports facilitate international travel, a handful of countries don’t have their presence. There are five countries where you can’t book air tickets and fly directly. The European sovereign states of Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City don’t have any airports. Measured by land area and population, Andorra is the world’s largest country without an airport within its boundary. Let’s dig into the details of this landlocked European microstate to know why it doesn’t have its facility.
Background of Andorra
Famed the world’s largest country without an airport, Andorra has a land area of just 467.63km2. It is an independent landlocked microstate on the Iberian Peninsula and has no access to the sea. In fact, this dwarf state is nestled in the soaring mountains of the Pyrenees stretching between Spain and France. It is home to over 77,000 people who boast their distinct culture, history, and language. Without a shadow of a doubt, Andorra is geographically isolated, yet, it is economically prosperous. Tourism is the mainstay of its GDP, as it pulls in over 8 million tourists every year. How do international tourists travel to Andorra without an airport? Moreover, why doesn’t Andorra build its airport?
Why doesn’t Andorra have an international airport?
Andorra is the world’s largest country without an airport, as its topography and treacherous terrains don’t support airport operations. Smacked in the Pyrenees mountain range, the country’s geographical position isn’t conducive for landing an aircraft. The tiny principality of Andorra is landlocked between France to the north and Spain to the south in the rocky heart of the Pyrenees. Andorra consists predominantly of rugged mountain peaks of close to 3,000 meters, forming several valleys.
Constructing an airport in a mountainous setting is risky as it can compromise aviation safety. The high-elevated lands aren’t strategically convenient for making a runway as they obstruct air navigation. Besides, building an airport requires a relatively flat land area large enough to host the runways and other infrastructures.
Firstly, Andorra doesn’t have a sufficiently large area of land to accommodate runways capable of handling international aircraft. On the other hand, all of Andorra is mountainous, and the average elevation of this micro-country is 1,996 meters. The high elevation, minimal flat land, and predominance of rugged mountains make Andorra airport less. In simpler words, the geo-location of Andorra isn’t feasible for the construction of the airport facility.
The nearest airports to Andorra
Although Andorra is the world’s largest country without an airport, some close-at-hand airports exist in Spain and France. Andorra has close access to the airports of Andorra-La Seu d’Urgell (LEU), Girona-Costa Brava (BRA) and Toulouse-Blagnac (TLS) in Spain. International visitors can fly directly to Andorra but can arrive through Spanish and French airports. Some of the airports: Barcelona, Toulouse, Girona, Perpignan, Pamiers, etc., are within a 200km radius and just a few hours’ drive away from Andorra la Vella.
- LEU Airport
Andoraa-La Seu d’Urgell Airport (LEU), situated in Catalonia, eastern Spain, serves microstate of Andorra. The capital and main town of Andorra la Vella is just a 30-40minutes drive from LEU airport. It is the most feasible airport for Andorrans, just 12km from the Spanish-Andorran border.
LEU Airport lies at an elevation of 800m above sea level and serves as a hub for Andorra Airlines. It has a small 1,261m-long asphalt-paved runway that can accommodate 78-seater ATR 72-600 aircraft. If we take a closer look at this airport’s history, it was used exclusively for private aircraft until 2008.
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The airport opened its doors to the public on 8 January 2015 with the commencement of regular or tourist charter operations. In the same year, two Spanish regional airlines, i.e., Air Andorra and Andorra Airlines, started offering flights from LEU to various Spanish and French airports. On December 2021, Air Nostrum-the subsidiary of Iberia, commenced twice-weekly flights on the LEU-Madras Barajas (MAD) route. The Spanish regional carrier was set to provide commercial air connectivity between LEU and MAD using ATR 72-600s.
- Other nearby airports in Spain
Girona-Costa Brava Airport (GRO), located northeast of Catalonia, Spain, is another close option to Andorra’s capital. European visitors landing at GRO Airport can take a bus, train, or taxi to enter Andorra la Vella’s capital, covering a 200km distance.
Similarly, one can arrive in this tiny state via Barcelona-El Prat with a driving duration of just 3 hours. The hourly bus service connects Barcelona to Andorra, covering a distance of 215km or 134 miles.
- Closest airports in France
Perpignan-Riversaltes Airport, lying 156km or 97 miles from Andorra, provides access to international flights for the principality. The other largest nearby airport to Andorra is a France-based Toulouse-Blagnac Airport that features flights to 74 destinations worldwide. The airport serves Toulouse Metropole and enjoys well-connection with major cities in Europe and Northern Africa. Travelers from Italy, Canada, France, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Turkey, etc., can directly land at TLS Airport. Then, they can take a bus, coach, or any other means to reach Andorra la Vella as quickly as 3 hours 30 minutes.
All these airports receive international flights on behalf of visitors willing to explore Andorra.
Transportation in Andorra
Being a geographically complex country, Andorra has limited air transport links to the outside world. You won’t find any airports for fixed-wing aircraft, however; Andorra hosts three private heliports in different parts of the country. The heliports in Lass Massana, Arinsal, and Escaldes-Engordany operate commercial helicopter services from Barcelona or Toulouse Airport for a fixed amount. Helicopters like AS355 F1, Colibri EC120, Huges 500E, Robinson R44, etc., are used for taxi flights, excursions, or VIP transfer purposes.
The world’s largest country without an airport, i.e., Andorra, facilitates its transport needs via roadways. The roadway is Andorra’s primary transport infrastructure, as the tiny state has a road network of 279km. CG-1 and CG-2 are the two main roads out of the pocket capital city of Andorra, connecting the Spanish and French borders, respectively. All metropolitan areas and a majority of rural communities in Andorra have bus service facilities for people and cargo movement. The buses on major routes depart every half hour or even earlier during peak times. Visitors and residents can also take a long-distance bus ride from Andorra to the cities of Toulouse and Barcelona.
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Just like airports, Andorra doesn’t have any rail station, but the ‘Intercites de Nuit’ overnight train links Paris to its nearest railway station Andorre-L’Hospitalet. Once the Andorran government proposed running the ‘Metro Aeri’ elevated carbo metro project several years back. The project was limited to the discussion stage and never brought to life.
Tourism in Andorra
The geographically isolated Principality of Andorra relies heavily on the tourism industry for its GDP. The annual tourist visits of over 8 million usually contribute to roughly 80% of Andorra’s GDP. Andorra’s duty-free status, well-developed sophisticated infrastructure, warm summer climate, and winter resorts draw millions of tourists annually. Most tourists come from Spain and France since their nearest major airports are just three hours from Andorra.
Surrounded by majestic mountain hills, Andorra offers countless outdoor opportunities for visitors. The country shines bright, especially in the winter when energetic visitors can try a spot of skiing in the resorts of Andorra la Vella, Canillo, La Massana, etc.
Andorra is the sought-after place for visitors for the best and most eclectic shopping experience. High-end designer stores and prestigious shopping malls await to satiate your shopping needs in Andorra. Due to its duty-free status, you can take advantage of your Andorra visit to quench your shopping desires.
Other countries in the world without an airport
The Republic of San Marino is the second-largest country in the world without an airport. Nonetheless, it has an area of just 61.2 sq. km and hosts a population of over 34000. Despite the absence of an airport, it has a heliport in its second-largest town, Borgo Maggiore.
The Principality of Liechtenstein in Europe is another airportless country in the world, but it hosts a heliport in Balzers. Liechtenstein has the closest airport access to Zurich International Airport between Austria and Switzerland. Other closest airport options include newly-built airports in St. Gallen, Switzerland, and Friedrichshafen, Germany.
The 2.02sqkm Monaco is also another sovereign European city-state without an airport. Like other airportless countries, it also has a Monaco heliport in the Fontvieille district. France borders it to the north, so the nearest airport is Nice-based Nice Cote d’Azur Airport.
The world’s smallest state, i.e., Vatican City, has an area of 0.48sq.km. So, it is impossible to build an airport there. As it is an independent enclave within Rome, Italy, the nearest airports include Rome Ciampino Airport and Rome-Fiumicino Airport.