7/17/1980: Cathay Pacific Begins Hong Kong to London Service

The launch of Cathay Pacific's (CX) Hong Kong to London service marked the start of the airline's international expansion.



July 17, 2023

DALLAS - Today in Aviation, Cathay Pacific (CX) operated its first flight between Hong Kong and London in 1980.

The honour of flying this historic service (CX201) befell the airline's second Boeing 747 (VR-HIA), delivered new to the airline in April 1980. The Jumbo Jet departed the historic Kai Tak Airport (HKG) bound for London Gatwick (LGW) with a fuel stop in Bahrain (BAH).

The route was initially flown thrice weekly, increasing to a daily rotation from July 1, 1981.

CX receives its first Boeing 747 (VH-HKG) in 1979. Photo: Cathay Pacific.

Global Expansion

Despite being created in 1946, CX had remained a predominantly regional carrier with a few international routes across Asia. This was until the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. 

During this time, Hong Kong was enjoying a booming economy. To capitalise on this, the colonial government looked to expand CX's network outside of Asia. However, an initial application to the British government for traffic rights to the UK was subsequently rejected.

Following the arrival of the first Boeing 747 (VH-HKG) in 1979, a second application was finally granted.

The first Boeing 747-400 arrived in 1989. Photo: Cathay Pacific.

Non-Stop Service

Just under three years later, CX initiated the world's first non-stop flights between Hong Kong and London on July 3, 1983. This followed modifications to its Boeing 747s RB211-524C2 engines, which gave the 747s enhanced fuel efficiency and thus greater range.

London Heathrow links began on April 30, 1991, eventually leading to the end of the LGW service. But on September 1, 2016 the airline returned to LGW after an absence of nearly 23 years. Gone was the Boeing 747, replaced by its state-of-the-art Airbus A350. However, the route was dropped again in 2020 as CX attempted to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.


Featured Image: VR-HIA pictured at London Gatwick. Photo: Tim Rees (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons