- World’s shortest international commercial flight launches November 2
- Eight-minute flight connects Switzerland’s St. Gallen-Altenrhein and Germany’s Friedrichshafen
Earlier this year, it was Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov, making a nonstop solo circumnavigation of the globe in a hot air balloon.
The focus in aviation has always been on flying farther and staying airborne for longer.
And yet, while long-haul flights have the undeniable allure of the exotic, other, much shorter, air routes have the beauty of the minimal.
November sees the launch of the world’s shortest international commercial flight — an eight-minute hop between Switzerland’s St. Gallen-Altenrhein and Germany’s Friedrichshafen.
To mark the event, we’ve compiled a list of air routes that stand out for being the shortest commercial flights on the planet.
What’s it like to fly when you are within sight of your final destination?
Shortest international commercial flight
St.Gallen-Altenrhein (Switzerland) to Friedrichshafen (Germany)
Airline: People’s Viennaline. (ACH-FDH). Distance: 13 miles (20 kilometers). (Starts November 2, 2016).
Lake Constance lies on the Rhine at the northern foot of the Alps and its 571 square kilometers of waters are shared by three countries: Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
There are just 20 kilometers, as the crow flies, between St. Gallen-Altenrhein airport, on the northeastern tip of Switzerland and Friedrichshafen, Germany, on the opposite lakeshore.
People’s Viennaline, a small Austrian airline, will connect the two cities with its new regular service.
The journey time? Just eight minutes.
This flight, served by Embraer regional jets, is actually just the first leg of a longer route that ends in Cologne.
Only about 10% of the forecast annual 40,000 passengers are expected to just take the shorter leg between Altenrhein and Friedrichshafen, says Danel Steffen, CEO of People’s Viennaline.
“But this stopover will benefit both tourists and commuters working on both sides of the lake and, of course, it is also likely to become a must in every aviation enthusiast’s logbook,” he adds.
As an extra bonus for aviation fans, Friedrichshafen is also where the first Zeppelin airships were built and tested.
People’s Viennaline is also unusual — it’s the only airline in Europe to be owned by an airport: St.Gallen-Altenrhein.
And while the airport is located just meters from the Austrian border, it lies entirely on Swiss territory.
“The international character of this operation is quite unique,” explains Steffen.
“Although they belong to the same owner, the airport is operating under Swiss laws and regulations and the airline under Austrian ones.”
It’s not the first time an Austrian airline has come close to breaking the record for shortest international flight.
Although the idea never came to fruition, in 2015 FlyNiki was reported to be considering launching regular flights between its Vienna hub and nearby Bratislava, 50 kilometers away in Slovakia, or a 10-minute flight.
In fact the two cities are close enough for Irish airline Ryanair to have at one point marketed some of its Bratislava flights as “Vienna.”
Shortest regular commercial flight
Westray to Papa Westray (Scotland)
Airline: Loganair. (WRY-PPW). Distance: Two miles (three kilometers).
A narrow stretch of water separates the Orkney islands of Westray and Papa Westray, off the north coast of Scotland.
Scottish airline Loganair has been running an air bridge between these two tiny Scottish islands for nearly 50 years, making it the shortest nonstop regular flight anywhere in the world. (On November 1, 2016, it claimed its millionth passenger.)
The flight, operated by a Britten-Norman Islander eight-seater aircraft, takes just over a minute, but on occasions has been as short as 53 seconds, depending on tail wind.
“This route is used mainly by the people of the Orkney Islands going about their daily routines,” says Andy Thornton, Longair’s director of flight operations.
“It is used by teachers, the local police officer, the banker and children going to school. However it is also a keen route for tourists and aviation enthusiasts.”
(Possibly) the shortest commercial flight
Kegata to Apowo (Papua, Indonesia)
Distance 1.3 miles (two kilometers).
They’re only 1.3 nautical miles apart and within sight of each other, but the Papuan hilltop settlements of Kegata and Apowo are separated by a deep forested valley.
Traveling between the two villages by land involves an arduous journey through thick jungle and steep mountainsides.
Much better if you can hop across that big ravine on Matt Dearden’s Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter, a robust single-engined aircraft that seats up to ten passengers.
Dearden, a British pilot operating local air services in remote areas of Papua, flew several revenue services on this route.
Although not a regular connection, it carried fare-paying passengers, which makes it, possibly, the shortest commercial flight anywhere in the world.
The rough, wet grass and scenic runways, dramatically perched on the mountain-tops, surely make for quite an experience.
“Both the air strips in question are short, about 350 meters for Kegata and 400 meters for Apowo, slippery wet grass and sloped towards the terrain,” says Dearden.
“Like many air strips in Papua there are no go-arounds once you are committed to land!”
Shortest intercontinental regular commercial flight
Tangiers (Morocco) to Gibraltar (British Overseas Territory)
Airline: Royal Air Maroc. (TNG-GIB). Distance: 43 miles (69 kilometers).
Just 9 miles separate Europe and Africa at the Straits of Gibraltar’s narrowest point.
Fast ferries ply this route constantly. Nevertheless those keen to avoid the choppy waters between the two continental landmasses have an alternative in Royal Air Maroc.
Morocco’s flag carrier offers a regular flight, operated by ATR-72 turboprop aircraft, linking Tangiers, at the northern tip of Morocco, to the British territory of Gibraltar.
Shortest flight between two national capitals
Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) to Brazzaville (Republic of Congo)
Airlines: Camair-Co, ASKY and, previously, Ethiopian Airlines. (FIH-BZV). Distance: 16 miles (26 kilometers).
This is a tale of two Congos.
Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo-Brazzaville), face each other across the muddy waters of the river Congo.
Two airlines fly between the two cities, Camair-Co, of Cameroon, and ASKY, a pan-African airline that operates across West Africa.
Ethiopian Airlines also used to fly between the two capitals on the Congo river, as the last leg of a triangular route that started in Addis Ababa. However, it didn’t have permission to carry local traffic.
Ethiopian had no less than a Boeing 787 Dreamliner deployed on this route, which at the time also made it the shortest regular commercial flight operated by a wide-body airliner.
Shortest regular commercial flight in North America
Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to Niagara District Airport (Canada)
Airline: Greater Toronto Airways. (YTZ-YCM). Distance: 32 miles (51 kilometers).
The land route between Toronto and Niagara involves an 85-mile drive along the shores of Lake Ontario, but it only takes some 15 minutes to fly in a straight line across the water.
A local Canadian airline has just launched a daily flight on this route using small Piper Navajo aircraft.
This will certainly make it easier for Toronto tourists and residents alike to visit the famous Niagara waterfalls.