In my last blog entry I have shared with you my experience from the famous Maho Beach, St. Martin. However, when you’re in Saint Martin there’s another really special place that you will need to see. It’s the Gustaf III airport at the French island of Saint Barthelemy, a few miles east of Saint Martin.
At St. Barts you won’t find the jet blast. In fact, it’s a really tiny airport with a very short runway (650metres), which can accommodate small piston and turboprop planes operated by local airlines. The most common aircraft that you can spot there are the Pilatus PC12s, Cessna 208B Caravans, Britten Norman Islanders and Twin Otters.
What’s unique about St Barth’s airport is its location, one end of the runway finishing with a steep hill, and the other ending with a beach. Due to prevailing winds the most common approach path to the airport will take you over the hill down to the runway, which requires a very steep approach path of about 6 degrees, double the usual 3 degree path at most airports.
Landing on runway 10 requires extreme precision and piloting skills, in order to allow you to land at the very beginning of the runway, with enough distance to stop the aircraft without ending in water on the other end of the runway. This famous video shows you what can happen if things go wrong. In fact, in order to be able to land at St Barts as a pilot you will need to take a special training and be certified to do so!
But apart giving you a special thrill on landing, the St Barts airport provides you with great aircraft spotting opportunities. You have two equally interesting options. You can either climb the top of the hill at the approach end of runway 10 which will place you directly underneath of the short final path of the landing aircraft – no take offs in this direction due to obvious reasons – or, get your place at the beach of the Baie Saint Jean which is at the departure end of runway 10/approach end of runway 28.
The obvious advantage of the first option is the rally spectacular view of the landing aircraft from atop of the hill, with a possibility to touch the landing aircraft if you want. Well, this is a joke, for the interest of safety you should never do that, but be aware; the aircraft approach really low over the ground so get out of the way. You can watch this youtube video to see the dangers of aircraft spotting at St Barts.
The other end of the airport has is own advantages too. Get a nice lounge chair at la Plage Beach restaurant on the beach of la baie Saint Juan, order a Mohito, prepare your camera and wait for departing or arriving aircraft. There’s not much more to do, and what you’ll get in return is a spectacularly beautiful beach, the sound of the engines roaring above your head (something we avgeeks love – don’t we) and plenty of great photos of small but powerful aircraft, like the amazing Swiss made Pilatus PC12.