Featured image: Christian Hanuise/GFDL 1.2

7/06/1998: Hong Kong’s Iconic Kai Tak Airport Closes

DALLAS — Today, in 1998, Kai Tak Airport, officially known as Hong Kong International Airport since 1954, closed its gates.

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.

Kai Tak from above. Photo: Cathay Pacific

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.

The crowded apron at Kai Tak in 1989. Photo: Rolf Wallner (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons

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!”

The featured image shows a view of the airport from a Boeing 747-467 from Cathay Pacific Airways (CX).

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