Air Caraibes Airbus A330 over the bay, about to land – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
My fiancee and I, chatting earlier this year while I was at my computer:
“Hey sweetie, did you realize our honeymoon cruise stops for a day at St. Martin?”
“Um, I think so, yea…”
“Did you know that is where they have the beach with the planes that just about land on your head?”
“Like the videos and pictures you showed me? Wow! That’s awesome! Sounds like we should spend that day there at that beach, you think?”
“Oh man, I am SO marrying the right woman!”
The author standing directly below a Boeing 737 about to land – Photo: Julian Cordle
When I tell people I’m into aviation, my (now) wife likes to describe me to others as “like the super-excited train guy, but with planes”. Tongue-in-cheek, of course. In any case, once we made plans to visit world-famous Maho Beach on St. Martin, she listened to me tell her many times “I can’t believe I get to actually BE THERE” while I was browsing the many stunning photos online.
A Corsair Boeing 747-400 lands at St. Maarten. Image by Chris Sloan / Airchive.com.
This story was written by Jason Rabinowitz for AirlineReporter.com.
On the tiny island of St. Maarten in the northeast Caribbean, there is a single runway airport named Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). This airport’s reputation, however, is anything but tiny.
Aviation enthusiasts call it the destination of dreams. Between the beginning of runway 10 and the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea sits a 100 foot wide area called Maho Beach. On these 100 feet of beach, enthusiasts and thrill seekers alike gather as heavy jets pass overhead, just seconds from touching down on the runway.
The tiny airport receives some of the largest aircraft in operation today, such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus A340. Currently, 1.6 million passengers pass through the airport, of which 85% are on scheduled airline flights as visitors to the island. Last week, Princess Juliana International Airport announced plans to facilitate further growth.
The airport received a US$132 million bond, which will enable major improvements and further expansion. Some of these improvements include the rehabilitation of the runway, construction of new taxiways to increase the efficiency of the runway, expansion of aprons to provide for more aircraft parking, and the acquisition of property for future expansion. The growth and rehabilitation is expected to take place over a three year period, during which aircraft operations will not be affected.
When word first came out that St. Maarten would be expanding the airport, aviation enthusiasts immediately became fearful for the future of Maho Beach. Last year, a video surfaced on YouTube of a woman holding onto the perimeter fence while an Airbus A320 prepared to take off. As the aircraft’s engines spooled up, the jet blast became too extreme for the woman, who went flying face first into a rock. Since this incident, the safety of Maho Beach has been called into question.
Thankfully, not only is the experience at Maho Beach going to remain as it is today, but Princess Juliana Airport is even embracing the excitement in a major re-branding effort.
An Air France Airbus A340 lands at SXM. Image from alljengi / Flickr CC.
The re-branding involves a new website, as well as a fresh new logo, featuring the SXM airport code. The new website includes real time arrival and departure times, social media integration, as well as a “Spectacular Landing” section, which is devoted to displaying user generated video from Maho Beach.
Speaking at a press event attended by AirlineReporter.com in New York City, Regina LeBega, Managing Director of the Princess Juliana International Airport Operating Company said, “We have signs, because it is a dangerous situation, and we try to make the signs a little more visible. Unfortunately, we can’t change the behavior of thrill seekers.” The airport will not be taking any action to quell this behavior, and no modifications will be made to the airport perimeter fence.
SXM is looking to become a hub airport, and these improvements will facilitate such change. For the typical vacationer and aviation enthusiast, Princess Juliana will remain as attractive as ever, providing a unique and breathtaking experience for years to come.