Princess Juliana International Airport
|Continent: Central America and Caribbean||Country: Netherlands||Region: Netherlands Antilles|
|Princess Juliana International|
|Location||Philipsburg, St. Maarten|
|Overview map||Google Maps|
Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten is widely regarded as an aircraft spotters' Mecca, a tropical resort destination with unparalleled views of approaching jet aircraft. St. Maarten's Maho Beach is frequently featured in mainstream media due to its unique proximity to Princess Juliana Airport; the beach is located on a small strip of land between the threshold of the airport's runway and the sea. Aircraft as large as the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A340 operate scheduled service into the airport as well as unique vintage cargo aircraft such as the DC-3 and DC-4.
Official Spotting Locations
Princess Juliana Airport has no "official" spotting location, but Maho Beach and the Sunset Beach Bar (below) are the de facto spotting location for the airport.
Other Spotting Locations
Sunset Beach Bar
Sunset Beach Bar is located on the South end of Maho Beach, which is located mere feet from the threshold of SXM's Runway 10. The beach and the Beach Bar are a five to ten minute walk (or a quick taxi ride) from the airport terminal. The Sunset Beach Bar is welcoming to spotters; a surfboard posted in the sand is regularly updated with the day's scheduled departing and arriving aircraft. The bar features dozens of picnic tables and open seating facing the beach to view aircraft. The beach and rocks surrounding the bar offer countless angles of aircraft arriving low over the beach.
Since aircraft will be flying very low over the beach, most aircraft will not require a large telephoto zoom lens. Aircraft such as the 747 or A340 will fill the frame at focal lengths as low as 18mm from the bar. Wide-angle and fish-eye shots are possible from the beach under the runway center line. No more than 150mm will be required for even the smallest aircraft.
Lighting for photography from the bar is most favorable in the morning during the winter time. Thanks to the large, open beach it is easy to move around to follow the most favorable light. Be aware that St. Maarten and Maho beach have become very popular lately as a cruise ship destination. Depending on the season or day of week the beach and bar may be pleasant and quiet, or swamped with tourists. If you want peace and quiet, avoid Saturdays during the late Winter and early Spring.
- JetPhotos.net sample photo: large
- JetPhotos.net sample photo: large
- Airliners.net sample photo: medium large
Runway End - Beach Side
Beacon Hill Road runs around the airport and separates the airport from the beach. A very low fence separates the airport from the beach and road. On the airport side of the road there is a small grassy area and a chest-high fence which allows you to get up-close and personal with aircraft departing on Runway 10. Jetliners will often taxi very close to the fence to line up for the runway - caution jet-blast. Tourists and locals will often attempt to "ride the fence", clinging onto the chain link fence while being blasted by departing aircraft. Be aware that jet blast will kick up a lot of sand and rocks and can be damaging to camera equipment and to people. The low fence offers great opportunities for ground shots.
Runway End - Hill Side
If you follow the road from the terminal to the right (seeing it from the terminal as you leave) you will follow the runway for a while and then the road will bend to the right and pass the threshold of the runway. Stop here and use any of the small, knee high dirthills to stand on. Now you have a great view of departing aircraft roaring straight at you.
Locations to Avoid
Use caution when beach-side - be prepared to be bowled over by tourists attempting to "ride the fence". St. Maarten is extremely spotter friendly, but be respectful and try not to trod across private property in search for a new angle.
Depending on the season and day of week, St. Maarten sees between ten and thirty jet movements a day. Major US carriers (AA, DL, US, UA, B6) operate daily or near-daily service with narrowbody equipment. Air France flies a single daily flight from Paris on an A340, KLM operates a 3x weekly service from Amsterdam with a 747-400. Caribbean airlines such as Insel Air and LIAT are regular visitors with numerous daily flights on equipment including DHC-8s, MD-80s, and F-100s. Local carriers such as WinAir and St. Barths Commuter operate frequent service to nearby islands with small equipment including DHC-6 Twin Otters and Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders. St. Maarten may not be the busiest commercial airport in the Caribbean, but it certainly has an impressive variety of aircraft.
Facilities and Transportation
The Sunset Beach Bar offers food, drink, and bathrooms. Bus service on the island is infrequent and unpredictable; taxis are reasonably priced and easy to come by. The airport terminal is well within walking distance.