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Why St. Maarten's Island Airport is Only Getting Larger and Awesomer

January 21, 2013 at 2:37 PM | by | ()

SXM. It's an airport code every avid traveler should know because it's more than just an airport; it's a kickass, bucketlist destination on its own.

SXM is Princess Juliana International Airport on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, aka the one that's split between Dutch (St. Maarten) and French (St. Martin) and aka the one that has what is arguably the best up-close plane spotting in the world. Photos and videos of the extremely low over-beach landings at St. Maarten are almost a YouTube genre in themselves.

While SXM has been a hotspot for plane spotting, island hopping and nude beaching (that last one on the French side!) for decades, it only got a modern terminal back in 2006. Now the airport will update to the tune of $132 million, which is roughly equivalent to half the draft budget of the entire St. Maarten government. So yeah, it's kind of a big deal.

Improving the runway is goal numero uno, with construction to begin next month (February 2013). Don't jump to any rash conclusions if plane spotting at Maho Beach is on your bucket list! None of the $132 million is going towards stopping the practice; as an airport representative explains, "we can change some details of the airport but we can't change the behavior of thrillseekers." Runway work will even be done at night so as not to impact regular arrivals and departures.

Having been to Princess Juliana International Airport ourselves, we have to say it's already one of the nicest airports in the islands, if not the whole Central America/Caribbean area. Hey, it's even got free WiFi!. Some 1.6 million travelers passed through SXM in 2011 and, when all is said and done in a couple years, the hope is to increase that number to 2 million. Shouldn't be too hard, really. The airport wants to be a hub for the region, ranked number one not necessarily for size but for service and security.

So, what will you, the traveler, see from that $132 million? Eventually Princess Juliana International will sport improvements to the retail and food and beverage operations, but it'll also become a "smarter" airport, friendly to mobile boarding passes and the tech/charging demands of travelers toting multiple gadgets.

Finally, everything will be wrapped in the lovely packaging of a fresh rebranding for the destination. Just announced last week, SXM now has a new logo (designed with the touch that has the "x" negative space mimicking the aircraft in the air vs. aircraft shadow on the water approach over Maho Beach), a new website, and an attention to detail inspired by Amsterdam-Schiphol. Example: a feed of arrival and departure information, updated every 20 seconds, lives on the homepage. No more relying on the chalkboard surfboard stuck in the sand at Maho Beach!

When to go: On December 3, 2013 SXM will celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the first commercial flight landing on the island. That flight, on KLM in 1943, inaugurated the island's new life as a tourism destination versus its original service as a military fuel stop.

So here's what it's like to be under the planes at SXM:

...And here's what it's like to be behind one:

...And here's what it's like to be inside a plane coming into SXM:

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted & SXM Airport. Videos: wakeandwander & Cynthia Drescher]

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