Flightspotters paradise no more? ( 11/09/2017 )

The hurricane season has arrived in the Caribbean and this time the hurricanes seem to be stronger than ever. The most powerful hurricane ever recorded named Irma passed by the French/Netherlands island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten last week with full force and with large destruction all over the island as consequence.

The island of Sint Maarten is also the place where you find the famous Maho Beach where the aircraft comes in low over the beach for landing at Princess Juliana Airport. The airport recorded some breaking wind strengths of gusts up to 160 kt!
The classic Sunset Bar where you can eat and have a drink while watching landing aircraft was completely destroyed. Nearby hotels sustained major destruction, not to mention the beach and airport itself.

Maho Beach has been a paradise for flightspotters for years and people from all around the world go here to get those amazing photos of low passing aircraft. It seems that even the non aviation interested people gets thrilled about the action and becomes a flightspotter for the day at the Maho Beach. Hopefully the hurricane Irma doesn't put the end to this spectacular tourist attraction.


Air Caraïbes Airbus A330-200 passing low over Maho Beach

Back in October 2013, I was fortunate to tick off this destination of my bucket list. Sint Maarten was just as great as I had anticipated and even exceeded my expectations. To my great suprise the small Maho Beach was just awesome with finegrained sand and the warm water, probably the warmest I have ever experienced.

Since Sint Maarten is one of the four constituent countries of the Netherlands, the links to and from Europe is well developed and operated frequently. I wanted to fly the KLM Boeing 747 to the island of course and when boarding the large jet at Amsterdam/Schiphol a big dream was about to come true. Some 8 hours of flight time in my window seat on the left side we were on approach to the famous runway 10 at Princess Juliana Airport.

After a fast and efficient immigration process, at least for EU citizens, I went directly to the nearby hotel for check in. The choice of hotel was probably just as obvious as the choice of flight to the island - Sonesta Maho Beach Resort. The hotel is the one you can see in the background on almost all photos shot at the famous beach. It offers splendid views of the approach to runway 10 and I had arranged already in advanced a "flightspotter" room on the top floor with balcony facing the beach.

Window view of Maho Beach on final rwy 10 at SXM - Priness Juliana Airport

Air France operates also widebody jet into St Martin, in this case Airbus A340-300.
Shot from the rooftop at the Sonesta Beach Resort.


Rooftop view from Sonesta Beach Resort with great views of the runway and the people standing at Maho Beach watching the departing aircraft.

The action of arriving aircraft start at early noon and you can follow the flow of traffic by the surf board at the Sunset Bar located at the other end of the beach compared to the Sonesta Beach Resort. It's from the bar or in its proximity you get those classic Sint Maarten shots of low passing aircraft. If you want to be more creative you have the whole beach to find your angle of choice, one thing for sure is that you will not be alone at the beach.

There is of course some other good spots around the airport perimeter fence but I guess the shots at the beach is the reason why you go to Sint Maarten in the first place. You will have no problem spending the whole day along the beach shooting, swimming and having something to eat and drink at the Sunset Bar. Departing traffic is just as spectacular as the landings and every movement can be seen from the beach as well. The perimeter fence is partly blocking the chance to get clean shots but you can manage to shoot through the holes in the fence. Beware of the jet blast as this can cause and have caused serious injuries or even death to people standing by the fence just for the fun of it.

The surf board displaying the arrivals of the day

Local Carib lager beer by the beach

Sunset Bar by Maho Beach

This is what you shouldn't do...

...better to just do it for the show (me in this case)

Otherwise try to be a distance away from the centerline as I am in this shot. As you see the perimeter blocks the view of the aircraft while lining up.

The result from the spot above while the aircraft lining up runway 10.


Apart from KLM and Air France, there is several other airlines operating in and out of SXM like local airlines in the Caribbean and mainly from USA.

Sadly since my visit almost four years ago, the hurricane Irma has hit this paradise hard but hopefully not worse than it can be rebuilt as soon as possible. Another sad thing is that KLM decided to discontinue its Boeing 747 operation on the route to Sint Maarten last year. The route is still operated by a heavy Airbus A330 but nothing beats the "Queen of the skies" coming in low over Maho Beach.

Sint Maarten has of course a lot more to offer than watching aircraft at Maho Beach but more about that in another blog post, you can view my full gallery until then by clicking the link below. Flightspotter or not, at Sint Maarten everyone becomes a spotter for the day!

Sadly this beautiful view of the KLM Boeing 747-400 is now history