A Corsair Boeing 747-400 lands at St. Maarten. Image by Chris Sloan / Airchive.com.

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.

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 ’œSpectacular 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, ’œWe 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.

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Alan Wigley

They really should do something to lengthen that runway which is too short for airliners and risky as well as for people on the beach.

The runway was lengthened a few years ago to accommodate the larger jets. As for the beach it’s just fine the way it is thanks.

Jason Rabinowitz

Water restricts the possibility of a runway expansion. The only possibility would be to reclaim land artificially, but that is most likely never going to happen. Large aircraft typically have no issues landing here, although the runway is indeed short.

You can build an entire airport up out of the water! That would actually create even more beach, so extending the runway into the water wouldn’t be a big deal…I just hope they don’t before I can get down there!


“You can build an entire airport up out of the water!”

Not without destroying an aquatic ecosystem.

S. Beattie

To extend the runway for St. Martin, it would have to be done artificially, which would unfortunately mean getting rid of Maho beach. They”ve had heavy loaded 747″s and a340″s get out of there for years and I”ve heard of no problems. The pilots know what they”re doing and they know how to do it safely. I just hope they don”t get rid of the beach because I hope to get down there at least once within the next few years so I can see it in person.

J Newton

I have been an airline mechanic for 26 years. The amount of power modern wide body powerplants produce at high power settings is astounding. Don’t take away the beach. If someone is foolish enough to stand directly behind an aircraft as the engines spool up for takeoff let them. You can’t protect people that have no common sense. The video speaks for itself.

the SXM runway is 7,546 feet long, just FYI

Will be going there in June. Glad to here they aren’t messing with the beach. I am a huge aviation enthusiast and it’s like a dream come true to see this. I’ve been googling departure and arrival times to make sure I will be there when the big boys are there.

So many response written by individuals who do not know. the runway has been extended in the past and has more area to extend without the beach being an issue. The eastern end in in the lagoon, where addition space exists if needed. St Thomas, (TIST) on the other hand extended west into the ocean, and there is no public areas near the beach that was covered. The Dutch on the other hand have no hesitation to fill in lagoons for land reclamation. You also should not be legislating to prevent stupidity. You take a risk, deal with the consequences. don’t remove the 99.999% of positive experience for the 0.001%

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