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Top 5 airports in the world… for plane spotters

For some of us, the airport is only part of the travel experience because we’re forced to go through it. Aching to get on with your dream holiday, nothing can be worse than standing in a queue with thousands of other passengers to get your passport stamped. For others, an airport is an amazing example of stalwart engineering and wonder. To help you see the airport world from the exciting perspective of a plane spotter, here are my top 5 airports in the world:

Princess Juliana International Airport, Saint Maarten

You have probably heard of this airport before, it is one of the most popular airports with travellers thanks to the fact that apron of the active runway is right next to the famous Maho Beach. Huge airliners like the Boeing 747 or Airbus A340 landing at the small airport fly so low to the ground, photos taken by tourists give the impression you can almost reach up and touch their bellies. Thrill seekers often hold onto the roadside fence waiting for the jetblast from aircraft taking off. We don’t recommend this of course, nor do all the warning signs next to the fence!

Princess Juliana International Airport, Saint Maarten

Gibraltar Airport, Gibraltar

Now a civilian airport that serves the British territory of Gibraltar, it was originally constructed during World War II and was an important base for the British. What makes this airport unique is, thanks to the limited space that was available, the runway intersects a public road. Akin to a rail crossing, cars travelling on the road would cross the runway. There are of course safety barriers preventing cars from entering the runway when an airplane takes off or comes in to land, but it is still rather exciting to drive across something usually fenced off to the general public.

Gibraltar Airport, Gibraltar

Barra Airport, Scotland

Barra Airport is the only airport in the world that is also a beach. The beach is set out with three runways in a triangle so planes are able to land into the wind, and is marked by permanent wooden poles at the ends. The twin otter aircraft that service this airport has a bit of a funny schedule, as they can only land at low tide. At high tide the runways are under the sea. Emergency flights do occasionally operate at night time, with vehicle lights and reflective strips used to illuminate the runways.

Barra Airport, Scotland

Wellington International Airport, New Zealand

Wellington airport features a short 2,081 metre runway, bordering the ocean on both ends. Passengers will get very close to the water before the airplane settles down on the runways, and Wellington’s famous wind often makes landing at this small airport very exciting, and challenging for the crew. Only smaller aircraft operate from this airport now, with Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 aircraft being the biggest. and even then the runway is too short for these aircraft to take off at their maximum weight, which is interesting because during the 1980’s Qantas used to fly their Special Performance 747’s to Wellington airport!

Wellington International Airport, New Zealand

Gustaf III Airport, Saint Barthélemy

Named after King Gustav III of Sweden, this small airport services the Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy. The airport is served by small regional charter aircraft, usually with fewer than 20 passengers on board. The runway sits at the bottom of a gentle slope, and ends directly on the beach below. Aircraft landing at this small airstrip has to descend at a very steep angle to clear the hilltop road, often coming very close to cars below. Departing aircraft does so over the heads of sunbathers on the beach, though signs on the beach do warn beachgoers not to lie directly beneath the flight path.

Gustaf III Airport, Saint Barthélemy

Campbell Bevan is Founder and Managing Director at Amazing Accom.

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  1. think you guys forgot amsterdam schiphol airport in the netherlands. its a very good airport for plane spotting. Very easy access to spotting places, the panorama terrace you have a very amazing view over the airport.

  2. You’ve got five of the best here; well done.
    SXM is my favorite…
    I’ve flown into Wellington, it does not look dangerous at all, until you realize what you’ve done :-).

    Barra is up there on the list for me soon!

    What’s the scariest one you’ve done Campbell?

  3. We’d love to be on that beach in front of Princess Juliana! It makes you wonder what they were thinking when they built the airport there. We’d imagine it had something to do with saving space….a la Gibraltar.

  4. SDU is also a nice one – built on a small artificial island next to Rio. Also Lukla – built on the side of a mountain.

  5. These are some breathtaking airports. I have been in Saint Maarten, but did not access it by Princess Juliana International Airport. Instead, I accessed it by sea on a cruise ship. However, I did see the low overhead landings. It felt like I could reach out and touch them as they seemed so close.

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