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Princess Juliana International Airport, Saint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

Last visited: October 2003 - Next planned visit November 2005

If you're planning a trip to Saint Maarten then prepare yourself for a rare treat in more ways than one. Anne and I had been to the island back in the 80's and found it much changed. But, I guess the most important find this past trip was how cheap Saint Maarten seemed to be compared to other islands we visited recently. Rental cars for US$150.00 a week. Dinner for four at nice restaurants with a drink or two under US$150.00 Compared to prices in Grand Cayman Saint Maarten is wonderful! But that's not why you're looking at this page. You want to know about the other treat ... the aircraft landing at Princess Juliana. Here goes ...

Important! Under each sample photo you will see the lens zoom setting recorded like "400/600 mm". The first number represents the setting that the lens as physically on when the picture was taken. The second number takes into account the 1.5 multiplier factor of the Nikon D100 camera.

Spotting and Photography in St. Maarten is a breeze ...

Obviously the most popular place for spotting and aviation photography is at Maho Beach, especially the Sunset Bar located on the southern side of the beach. From here you'll get some fantastic views of the aircraft landing on runway 9. You can shoot from either side of Maho Beach and you can walk right up to the fence at the end of the runway, it's only about 5 foot high, and shoot from there as well. Some have even taken shots from the upper floors of the hotel on the northern side of the beach and gotten spectacular shots.

Beware though, the tendency will be to settle in at the Sunset Bar, enjoy some food and drink while waiting for the next arrival. And, I assure you, you will do some waiting. Before I continue let's talk about the traffic you can expect.

First let me tell you that I was there during the non-peak season so the traffic was a bit lighter than you can expect during the peak season. Saturdays and Sundays were the heaviest traffic days with additional flights that only fly on weekends. But Monday to Friday did offer some nice traffic for those with patience. The highlight of each day of course was the Air France A340, followed by the American 757s, of which there were about three each day. Then once weekly there was the KLM 747 (now an MD-11 twice weekly and 747 once weekly), the Air Holland 767 and the Corsair 747. Each came once a week during the non-peak season, but I've heard are more frequent during the peak season. On

Saturdays and Sundays there was the Continental 737, a US Air 757 and a Westjet 737.

After the heavies come the smaller regional airlines. A few BWIA 737s and the Dutch Caribbean MD-82. Of course you'll get your fill of the Caribbean Star, Caribbean Sun and Liat Dash 8s. They're like weeds at Princess Juliana along with a myriad of private aircraft that come and go during the day. There is also some cargo traffic that you might catch. I was lucky to catch a DC-3, Amerijet 727 with winglets, and a Convair CV-440, but you never know when they operate.

The peak time for arrivals is between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. with departures usually following about two hours after the aircraft arrives. Now, let's look at some shots taken from the various places identified on the crude map.

12 mm on Maho Beach

12 mm on Maho Beach

35/52 mm

24/36 mm North side Maho Beach

98/147 mm North side Maho Beach

35/52 mm

130/195 mm by the runway fence
Granted everyone visiting Saint Maarten has the sole objective of getting those over the beach shots like above, as well they should, but that's not all you can do in. It's fairly easy to move between locations, but it can take some time to do so, so you need to be careful in your timing. To catch some departure shots you can either park across from the rental car lots along the fence, or drive around the end of the runway and turn right on the first street and make your way along the runway fence to Mary's Boon Hotel. I probably wouldn't suggest going to these areas until after the mainstream traffic has arrived and the final few are ready to depart. The Air France A340 departed about 4:15 p.m. daily and nothing else was happening at that time so it was a safe bet that I wouldn't miss anything important. However, you never know. One day while heading by the airport I noticed a BWIA 737 sitting at the gate. We decided to set up camp by Mary's Boon Hotel and wait for her departure. At the appropriate time she taxied
out to the runway and then turned left toward the 27 end of the runway, the opposite way from what was normal and expected. She was going to depart with the wind and out over Maho Beach and not toward the mountains. We lost the shot because of this as there was no time to reposition ourselves before she departed.

260/390 mm across from the rental cars

80/120 mm by Mary's Boon Hotel

100/150 mm by Mary's Boon Hotel

400/600 mm across from the rental cars

400/600 mm by Mary's Boon Hotel

116/174 mm by Mary's Boon Hotel

Just one more thing to add about shooting in Saint Maarten. For those of you intending to submit your photos to Airliners.Net. Pay attention to your Air France shots. When I was there the flight operated all but one day so I got six days of shots of the Air France inbound and outbound. The only problem is that Air France sent the same registration three days in a row. So, in reality, I only took pictures of two different aircraft. Certainly leads to a "bad double" situation as you get some beautiful shots each day.

About hotels: Many who write and inquire about spotting locations also ask about hotels and their cost. I'm sorry, but I have no hotel real hotel recommendations and I'm not aware of the cost of hotels on Saint Maarten. We stayed at the Divi Little Bay Resort which was about 7 miles from the airport near downtown Phillipsburg. We own a timeshare with the Divi chain and traded for our week there so I have no idea what the daily/weekly cost would be. The hotel is great and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind not being right by the airport.

Good luck and enjoy. Oh, don't forget ... there are other things to do on the island besides take pictures of aircraft :)

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