It’s a Plane. Duck!

According to the traffic stats for my blog, most of you are not taking advantage of checking out the daily features I’ve been posting.  Every day I post a fact, a picture, a quote and a cartoon.  They’re available from the menu bar just under the Today’s Tangent logo.  Click on “Fact o’the Day,” “Pic o’the Day,” “Quote o’the Day,” and “Toon o’the Day” above.

There was a picture I posted last week (October 13) that I feel needs more attention than simply a picture post.  This is the one of the airstrip’s relative location to a beach in St. Maarten – the 747 aircraft touching down at the very edge of the runway, mere meters above a road and a beach.  Here’s the picture again:

And here are some other amazing photos of low landings:

Here is what the pilot sees approaching the airstrip:

As I stated in the text of that Pic o’ the Day post, this is not a doctored photo.  This is a photo of an actual plane landing at Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten.

You can see from this map that the runway is sandwiched between the Sunset beach on the west and the Simpson Bay lagoon on the east.

Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) is known as the smallest airport in the world where all sorts of aircraft roar in and out over the nearby beach.  PJIA serves 2.5 million passengers annually and they see their fair share of big airliners.  The reason that these massive aircraft touch down so close to the beach is due to its relatively short runway.  At just 7152 feet (2180 meters), these large airplanes (747’s) need almost all of this length to stop before plunging into the lagoon at the end of the runway.  Note too that the runway is just 13 feet above sea level!

The History Channel program Most Extreme Airports, ranks it as the 4th most extreme airport in the world:

  10. Lindburgh Field @ San Diego
    9. Funchal @ Madeira, Portugal
    8. Eagle County @ Vail, CO
    7. Courcheval @ Courcheval ski area, France
    6. Kai Tak @ Hong Kong (closed)(Checkerboard approach)
    5. Gibralter @ Gibralter territory
    4. Princess Julianna @ St. Maarten
    3. Gustaf III @ St. Barth’s
    2. Toncontin @ Tegucigalpa, Honduras
    1. Tenzing-Hillary @ Lukla, Nepal

Because the approach to Runway 09 is over water pilots can be disoriented regarding perceived altitude when operating under visual flight rules.  Normal instrument checks coupled with experience and awareness mitigate the potential problem.  In fact, the departure from Runway 09 presents more “difficulties” than the approach, with a turn required to avoid mountains in the departure path.

Here are some videos of how close you can get to the incoming aircraft on Sunset beach.

When the east wind is blowing, aircraft start at the Sunset beach side for takeoffs.  The thrust needed to propel the aircraft down the runway is extreme and warning signs are posted to caution people.

A common activity of tourists is to “fence surf” in the engines’ blast.  Basically, you hang onto the fence while the aircraft’s thrusters are set to full power.

While on the beach, some individuals attempt to hang onto giant “sails” and umbrellas.  This video shows the results of such attempts.  (You have to go to Youtube to watch this video – embedding is not allowed.)

No doubt, a unique airport experience.


About brianwawryk
PMP and Prince2 certified project manager.

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