St. Barts Airport—actually Gustaf III—on the Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy is notorious for having a hill off the approach end of its 2100-foot runway. It’s a challenge to land there and not everyone gets away unscathed. In this AVweb video, Paul Bertorelli looks at one landing that went wrong and why.


  1. Perhaps a technicality, but the airport in question is located on the island of St Barthélémy, not on St Martin / St Maarten. The 2 islands are about 15nm apart.

  2. I remember when I took training to fly in there the instructor’s mantra was: “If your mains are not on the runway by the first set of bars, GO AROUND! DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. GO AROUND!
    That was in a Piper Archer. I now fly a Mooney 201. I don’t think I’d attempt it in the “J”.

    • My neighbor went through the training and regularly did it in his C310. Getting the training and doing it in my M20E (not much different than your J) is on my bucket list. I have landed on most of the airports down there with the exception of St. Barts and Saba Rock. (Once you look at it you can see why the locals call it Saba Rock instead of Saba Island.)

      Saba — now THERE is a STOL challenge! The runway is 1100′ long and is served by regularly scheduled service using Twin Otters and Britten Norman Islanders.

      Regardless, this shows why you want to be ON SPEED and on flightpath. You want to carry just enough energy to make the turn (round out) from approach to parallel with the runway. Don’t have enough kinetic energy? Well, this video shows what happens.

  3. I flew in there several times in the 1980:ies. At that time it was mandatory to make a flight test before and then the French aviation authorities in that area issued a special permit with no expiry date. It looks like that requirement no longer is valid? I learnt from my instructor that when you were low and over the runway – you retract the flaps slowly which automatically will get you on the ground and that would make it possible for you to use your brakes. That was in a C210.

  4. Decades ago Boeing did a study of 737 operations to try to identify factors in successful airline operations.

    Pacific Western was one of the successes. 5100 feet in blowing snow at 2000 feet ASL for example.

    A key recommendation was, in my words: “Fly the numbers”.

    (PW crews initially tended to set the airplane down firmly and get retarding devices out/up/on quickly. Eventually learned to be a bit smoother for passenger confidence, there is a technique for last few feet of descent and flare, documented in testing of a HUD. (PW used HUD into the High Arctic on B727, B737, and L100 because of visibility of featureless terrain covered by drifting snow.)

  5. A few decades ago I flew around the Caribbean for a few years and my job sometimes took me to St. Barts in an Aztec loaded with ice cream and newspapers. On my checkout into the airport the first two landings resulted in go-arounds. I was used to flying into short strips but the real twist to a successful landing at this airport hasn’t been mentioned in this article. It is the runway slope that is the real problem. It is a 44 ft drop over 2119 ft which computes to a 2% slope or 1.2 degree angle. That may not sound like much but if you’ve ever flown something sleek down a 3.5 degree glidepath instead of the standard 2.5 degrees, you know what I’m talking about. It feels like adding a 15kt tailwind. When landing at St. Barts this unusual situation takes many by surprise. It is also the reason that when landing on runway 28, which is seldom done, you are pitching up in the flare much higher than usual, thus making the hill on the opposite approach end look not too high but a go-around from low level on runway 28 would be a dicey maneuver. Believe me, that hill looks plenty high when on a 1 or 2 mile final instead of from the runway already pitched up.

    • And I should’ve mentioned that after touchdown, the downslope affects the braking as well and that’s why you see so many airplanes lock up on the roll-out. It’s much more pronounced than you might think. I bet you that if you let a car go in neutral from the numbers of runway 10, by the time you hit the beach you’re doing 30 mph.

  6. Never flew into St. Bart but always appreciated those who operated in and out of that airport on a daily basis. Between 1992-97 I did have the good fortune to operate a 200 & 300 series Twin Otter from American Samoa to the island of Ofu. This runway is a 1800-1900 ft paved runway on the perimeter of the island. There is no obstacle to overcome but a short runway with the Pacific Ocean on both ends is still short. Turbulence during the North Easterly winds in winter months gives the most experienced DHC-6 pilot a challenge when operating from that airport.
    Looking back in my aviation career, flying the South Pacific was the most rewarding experience in my 30 years flying. Of course I was younger then and up for any challenge.

  7. Looks like to me – if you can’t cross the top of the @ ~ 10′ & 1.1VSo, then you are NOT up to the task – over
    Take a lesson by watching the Otter guys.

  8. Equally as important as proper approach technique is the go-around. This is an ongoing threat in all aircraft operations…continued flight into conditions that are not suitable for the equipment and/or crew.

  9. Another tricky approach similar is in Culebra Island of Puerto Rico – we weren’t allowed to go in as renters (and for good reason) – – but going in with the Norman Islanders, it was amazing to watch these guys and gals do it so adroitly – maybe we can get the A380 into Culebra as well – lol

  10. No need to go to the Caribbean to experience the downhill run to the numbers, KCNH (Claremont, New Hampshire) runway 11 was plenty interesting for me.

    • Back in 1982- I bought a 1959 Cessna 150 Straight Tail from a fellow in KCNH and after the pre-buy inspections we did a series of pattern work/take-offs and landings on a post-cold frontal Wx day with winds gusting to 36 knots before I flew it back to the SE USA to my home base. I know what you mean very well ! 🙂

  11. In all the you tube landings into short/sporty/difficult runways that I have watched and that ended badly, one thing was consistent. At about 100 ft AGL It was starting to look pretty clear that the airplane was not on a flight path profile that was going to result in a successful landing; yet rather than going around the pilot pressed on…..

    I have also noticed that at my home airport the majority of the piston singles I see are making very flat landings. Either with the nose wheel only slightly above the runway or frequently with all three wheels touching down at the same time. The only way this can happen is with excessive approach speeds. I blame the flight schools for this as most teach flying the approach at speeds that are at least 10 knots too fast.

    This extra margin above stall is supposed to make the approach “safer”, but in reality increases the likelihood of a bad landing and does not prepare new pilots for landings on runways less than 500 feet.

    • A flat landing can occur even if the approach was exactly on the proper approach speed. The pitch at the moment of touchdown is controlled by the elevator. A flat landing is always caused by the pilot allowing contact with the surface before reaching the proper pitch attitude – i.e. not holding if off. It’s easy to determine if the approach speed is not right. If the airplane floats more than a couple of centerline stripes, it has exceeded the tolerance allowed for the normal landing for the Private checkride and indicates the speed was excessive. But poor elevator control would still be the cause of any flat touchdown.

  12. The sideslip is an under-appreciated, under-utilized, and under-taught maneuver. I blame the advent of flaps, especially the very effective ones on many common trainers. One maneuver that works well for crosswinds, scrubbing off speed, and losing altitude: what more could you ask for? I slipped my Mooneys, with their tiny flaps, pretty frequently. Even the 231 that had speed brakes — it’s easy to modulate the amount of slip, whereas speed brakes are all or nothing, and there’s zero chance of forgetting to stop slipping on a go-around.

    • I like to do slips. However, if a pilot uses a slip, it normally means he didn’t do a good job with basic pitch and power control. And with someone who has poor pitch and power skills, how well do you think they will execute a forward slip.

  13. Took the training, got the endorsement in 2015. My training consisted of 8 laps on the published visual approach profile, 5 successful landings and 3 successful go arounds. The wind over the hill must be accounted for as well… it can increase your sink rate unexpectedly. We also did one approach to 28 just to get the sight picture, but went around quite early, still 200 feet above the runway.

    I only landed once without an instructor, the next day, with my wife as passenger. Bucket list item complete. This was in a Glasair II with fixed tricycle gear.

    My instructor gave me the endorsement stating “at least you know how to go around”. The endorsement was good for only 1 year. It was fun and challenging but not something I would recommend doing routinely. I wore out a set of brake linings just practicing short field landings at home. I was at the top of my game and max performing the airplane to make the numbers. Spent a bunch of money to get the training too.

    • Good point, Douglas. What is not taken into account here is the extremely unstable air coming through the gap at St. Barts. Pilots here talk about 1.2 Vso and slipping etc as if this is a normal approach but no approach here can be flown exactly as the last one, unless very early in the morning when there is no wind. In the video the approaches show may look stable but as you know, there is no such thing as stable when flying into St. Barts. And again I must make the point that the downslope is what makes landing so challenging. You can clearly see that no landing is in a low energy nose high position except the Islander landing on 28. On runway 10 you fly the plane onto the runway into an almost flat attitude due to the runway falling away from you. No easy feat in a Glasair but you have the option of powering out of it.

    • I think there was another comment on another post attributing the loss of elevator authority on some airplanes (C172?) when slipping -so maybe people flaked out because of that? read the POH/AFM re slipping in your particular aircraft (show the student how to do this) and then practice a ton of them – agree with you MARY M

      • Yes, R N, there is a note in some C-172s about loss of elevator authority when slipping with full flaps. But it doesn’t say don’t slip. One of my early instructors pointed out that note and then said “let’s see what this is about” whereupon we found that the plane behaves just fine. Just don’t carry a big slip with 40° flaps all the way into the flare — but the sink rate makes that a really bad idea in any case.

        I agree with Mary, I think a lot of CFIs are uncomfortable with the uncoordinated attitude of a slip — stall/spin awareness training messages that “uncoordinated” = “instant death” — and take the cautionary notes in some POHs as reason to not teach real slips at all.

      • The C-172 slips fine. In a really aggravated slip it will pitch up and down a little. I believe the manual states avoid them if over 30 seconds.

    • Mary: I’ve taught forward slips, side slips, turning slips, with combinations of full rudder, or as much rudder as you need slips. Then there’s the ammo gonna have fun with this slip slip.

  14. On the Pipers, Archer and Arrows anyway, If you get established on final with full flaps and hang it off the prop as slow as you feel comfortable with maintaining aoa you can achieve a flight path that will get off at the first turn off every time.
    How is this done? Use the flap lever as a collective. Not recommended unless you know the plane well and have practiced the technique extensively.

  15. The optimum short-field approach is one that is a straight line and has the steepest descent angle possible but which still requires a low amount of power to control speed. That allows the pilot to arrive at the flare with just enough energy for a safe and gentle touchdown but with little to no float. It makes it pretty easy to aim at one centerline stripe and touch down properly before passing the next one (Commercial Pilot standards). Most of the airplanes in the video are descending at an angle that is too steep, evidenced by the excessive floating. It’s natural to think that it is better to follow the contour of the hill and aim at the very first marking on the runway, but then the pilot has to negotiate a long float, and ends up touching down at the same place or even further than the pilot who aims at say the second centerline stripe and who has much more predictable and safe control of the descent angle, speed, roundout, and touchdown.

  16. To me it appears he leveled out over the road for some reason saw he was high then pulled the power. Already slow from leveling out he descended rapidly as an Arrow will do power off and then didn’t have the energy to arrest the sink. Pitching up just caused the plane to enter an accelerated stall and it slammed into the ground. All goes back to a stabilized approach.