Last month I spent seven glorious days in the southeast Caribbean. One of my favorite parts of the trip was viewing all the different airports on the islands. In fact, on Maho Beach in St. Maarten (the Dutch side of the island), two of my favorite activities — relaxing on the beach and watching airplanes — were combined into one!
Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA), like San Diego International Airport (SDIA), has just one runway which handles 30–40 operations per hour. Recently PJIA underwent an expansion that included a new terminal with 11 boarding gates, four jet bridges and 46 check-in ticket counters. PJIA has an average of 1.7 million passengers annually and 174 chartered and scheduled daily flights — including seven U.S. nonstop flights. Because PJIA’s one runway is very short at 7,107 feet (compared to SDIA’s runway at 9,401 feet) all aircraft must land and take off at the end of the runway, which is situated right next to Maho Beach.
This makes for one of the most exciting plane-spotting locations in the world! I took the picture above to prove it. Most people tend to recognize PJIA because its runway ends in such close proximity to Maho Beach. This is one of the only airports in the world where you can view aircraft so close to, and directly underneath, the arrival and departure path. In the brief video below you can see the people on the beach almost being blown away as an American Airlines 757 departs just a few feet away from the beach.