Some of you (like Paul Tomblin, who manages navaid.com) have probably already run into this problem, but it turns out that there are at least three airports in the world that cannot safely be assigned to any country, at least not without causing a diplomatic incident. This is a problem for database architects as well as ambassadors, because the normal way to organize airports in a database is to sort them by country (and to assume that every airport has one).
Problem airport #1: Woody Island
Woody Island is one of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The islands and reefs are surrounded by major fisheries and possible oil and gas reserves, and are claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Most recently, China seized control of the islands from South Vietnam near the end of the Vietnam War, but the other countries have not given up their claim, and China’s possession has not received international recognition.
China operates an airport (VH84) on Woody Island as part of its emergency rescue centre on the island.
Problem airport #2: Swallow Reef
Swallow Reef is part of the Spratley Islands, also in the South China Sea. Like the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands are surrounded by major fisheries and potential oil and gas reserves. In addition to China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, each of which claims the entire chain, Malaysia and the Philippines claim some of the islands, and Brunei has established a fishing zone which includes one of the reefs. None of these claims has received international recognition, and all of the countries (except Brunei) maintain small military forces on various islands.
Malaysia happens to occupy Swallow Reef, and it maintains both a naval base and a tourist resort there, with an airport (RP10) to serve them.
Problem airport #3: Jerusalem
Saving the most controversial for last, Jerusalem International Airport, aka Atarot Airport — which has been non-operational and controlled by the Israeli Defence Force since 2001 — is in the West Bank occupied territory near Ramallah. It actually has two ICAO codes: OJJR (OJ is the prefix for Jordan, which formerly owned the West Bank), and LLJR (LL is the prefix for Israel, which currently controls the West Bank).
Our side of the pond(s)
We’ve done a better job dealing with our problem airports in North America. Piney Pinecreek Border Airport (48Y) in Piney, Manitoba, Avey State Field (69S) in Laurier, Washington, and International Peace Garden Airport (S28) in Dunseith, North Dakota all have runways that actually cross or at least touch the Canada/U.S. border (Dunseith’s runway actually ends at a highway border crossing, so there are both U.S. and Canadian customs booths onsite). They have U.S. identifiers, but we list them in the Canada Flight Supplement as well. No need to refight the War of 1812.