Pilots and passengers alike were reminded once last week that New York LaGuardia can be one of the most challenging major airports in the world from which to operate.Delta Air Lines Flight 1086, landing in snowy weather on a flight from Atlanta to New York, skidded off Runway 13/31, into a short earthen berm and then into a fence. On the other side of that fence was Flushing Bay.There were 132 souls on board the MD-88 twinjet, 127 passengers and five crew. There were no serious injuries.Although it will be a while till the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board issues an official probable cause, the fact is LGA’s layout doesn’t leave much room for error on anybody’s part.The pocketport is a mere 680 acres in size, making it one of the smallest major airports in the world. Still, Airports Council International ranks it as the 30th busiest airport on the planet in terms of takeoffs and landings. Delta is the main player at LGA.Its location renders it supremely convenient for New Yorkers, especially business travelers. It’s the closest in of New York’s three major airports. But it’s this very proximity that leaves little room for expansion, unless you want to extend runways over the water. That’s what they did with Runway 13/31 (the designation reflects compass headings). Built in part upon pilings, it juts out over the bay and, according to an anonymous pilot interviewed by The New York Times “ices up pretty quickly.”Shortly before the accident a pair of aircraft landed on the freshly-plowed runway and reported “good breaking actions” according to Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which operates all three New York airports. Including JFK and LaGuardia.Although Runway 13/31 is fitted with 327 feet of energy-absorbing material called EMAS (Engineered Materials Arresting System) designed to stop aircraft from plowing off the the airstrip, the system didn’t come into play this time. That’s because it’s located at the runway’s runway end, rather than its flanks. Flight 1086 veered off 13/32 about 4,500 feet from the runway’s threshold. Only the small, raised earthen berm stopped it from ending up in the icy waters of a none-too-accommodating bay.LaGuardia is no stranger to aircraft ending up in the water. September 21, 1989 USAir Flight 5050 tried to abort its takeoff, rolled off the end of a LGA runway, broke up and landed up in the East River. Two died that night.March 2, 1994 Continental Airlines Flight 705, in the midst of a snowstorm, also aborted its takeoff. It skidded down a runway and came to rest in a ditch.