After getting the call from the client, I had about a week to prepare for about a week at sea. The first couple days were filled with producing the logistics of the travel itself and the shock of hearing I’d be working on a cruise ship, then the fun of looking into the destinations set in. I’d be going to Sint Maarten – The Friendly Island!
In 2004 I got my pilots license. It had been a lifelong dream and the time was right. I became enveloped with aviation. It wasn’t long after that I learned of Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch side of the island. With both Dutch and French colonies on the island and a tropical climate it’s a popular destination for European holiday-makers (vacationers). Daily flights from many North American, European, South American and other Caribbean locations make this a busy airport, but with limited land available this runway has a unique trait: it ends just a few short feet from the beach and the warm waters of the sea.
I don’t remember the first time I saw photos of airplanes landing here, but I very quickly became infatuated with it. Is that real? Can that be real? Yes, very much so. From the cruise terminal it’s about a 15 minute taxi ride to Maho Beach, at the west end of the airport grounds.
A few hotels nearby offer rooms with great vantages. A bar at the south end of the beach gives beer-lovers a place to watch the comings and goings from a safe area, and even an ‘Arrivals’ board that lists the planes soon to be touching down.
From small single engines to wide body intercontinental jetliners land at Princess Juliana airport, and each generates excitement.
The real excitement, tho, comes from the departing flights – especially the ones that play along. In aviation, there are 3 things that don’t matter – Airspace above you (you can never be too high), fuel in the truck (keep your tanks as full as possible) and runway behind you. Especially for short runways, it’s common for an airplane to keep it’s brakes on as the engines spool up to be sure you’re getting maximum thrust, in an effort to make use of every inch of tarmac that you can. That day, at Princess Juliana Airport, an Insel Air Super 80 knew the deal. Taxiing to the arrival end of Runway TK, the First Officer opened his window and waved to the crowd gathered just a few feet from the rear of the aircraft. Very intentional movements kept the airplane – and it’s rear-mounted engines – as close to the fence line as possible. The captain received his take-off clearance from the tower and the engines roared, but with every pound they could muster the flight crew stood on the brakes and the plane stood still. The jet blast began to take its toll; hats. Sunglasses. Even coolers began to blow across the beach, and shortly the people themselves, like blowing an ant off of your jeans, flew across the sand and into the ocean.
More planes came and left and soon it was time to return to the ship, but not before a stroll through ‘downtown’ Philipsburg. It’s hear that some of the Dutch influence showed itself through street names and architecture.
Maybe not an airport on the beach, but many destinations offer a ‘can that be real’ sight – your job is to find it. And keep making great photos!