MIAMI – Today in aviation, Kai Tak Airport, officially known as Hong Kong International Airport from 1954, closed its doors in 1998.

The airport was famed for its nail-biting, roof-top skimming ‘checkerboard approach’ to runway 13. It was named after two businessmen, Ho Kai and Au Tak. The pair helped with the construction of the city’s first airstrip on the site that opened on January 25, 1925.

The airport steadily grew over the years, as did the city around it. The 1980s were Kai Tak’s heyday. Passenger numbers soared to over ten million in 1986. 

A busy apron at Kai Tak in November 1989. Photo: Rolf Wallner (GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html or GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html), via Wikimedia Commons

New Airport Needed


However, Kai Tak, then one of the busiest in the world, had begun to outgrow its current site. As there was no room for expansion, the Hong Kong Government began to look at alternative locations for a new airport in the late 1980s. 

The islands of Chep Lap Kok and Lam Chau were chosen. Both had to be flattened and 9.38 square kilometers (3.62 sq mi) of land reclaimed from the sea to house the new facility.

Construction of what would become the new Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) began in 1991. It officially opened on July 2, 1998. 

Kai Tak Airport taken from the window of a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 the day after its closure. Photo: christian hanuise – Gallery page https://www.jetphotos.com/photo/10362Photo https://cdn.jetphotos.com/full/2/65507_1039973794.jpg, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29591579

Last Kai Tak Flight


The final departure from Kai Tak was left to its resident airline Cathay Pacific (CX), with flight CX3340 operating a ferry flight to the new airport. The Airbus A340-300 departed from runway 13 at 01:05 am local time, ending 73 years of aviation at the site.

A small ceremony was then held in the airport’s Control Tower. Anson Chan, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary, and Richard Siegel, Director of Civil Aviation, turned off the runway lights and bid a final farewell: “Goodbye Kai Tak, and thank you!”


Featured image: A Singapore Airlines (SQ) Boeing 747-400 on finals to runway 13 at Kai Tak in October 1997. Photo: JetPix (GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html or GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html), via Wikimedia Commons