HISTORY – A Brief Visual History of HK’s Old Airport, Kai Tak 30

Heralded as the 6th most dangerous in the world, Kai Tak served as HK’s airport from 1925 till 1998…

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Courtesy Daryl Chapman, flickr.com/photos/darylchapman

Landings over densely populated Kowloon were spectacular and involved a complicated last-minute manoeuvre known in the piloting community as a ‘Hong Kong Turn’ or ‘Checkerboard turn’, after the checkerboard reference point above Kowloon Tsai Park (still visible today – click for some eerie close-up shots)…

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In 1925, Kai Tai was a simple grass-strip airfield which served the British RAF and enthusiasts from the Hong Kong Aviation Club (which still exists today).

By 1928, a concrete slipway was constructed for seaplanes…

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Kai Tak in the 1930s, via Gwulo.com

The first control tower and hangar at Kai Tak were built in 1935. In 1936, the first domestic airline in Hong Kong was established.

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Tally-ho! The Pride of Detroit at Kai Tak, 1927

The shot below from 1939 shows a Lufthansa flight, flying between Berlin and Tokyo, carrying a charming swastika on its tail fin…

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via SCMP, May 1939

As HK fell to the Japanese during WWII, Allied prisoners of war labourers were put to work, creating two new concrete runways. The work involved long hours and gruelling work.

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Japanese surrender at Kai Tak, 1945, via Wikicommons

Cathay Pacific was founded in 1946 by American Roy Farrell and Australian Sydney de Kantzow…

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DC4 of Cathay Pacific Airways, 1954.

A master plan for the expansion of Kai Tak was approved in June 1954. The new runway would be constructed by reclaiming land from the harbour…

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By 1957 runway 13/31 had been extended to 1,664m while runway 7/25 remained 1,450 m long. In 1958, a new NW/SE 2,542m long runway extending into the Kowloon Bay was completed by land reclamation…

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The photo below shows a temporary control tower used during the redevelopment works between 1958 and 1962…

Air Traffic Control in the 1960s…

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Kai Tak Airport and Tung Tau Tsuen in 1962, via richardwonghk on Flickr

Take-off in 1969…

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Courtesy Daryl Chapman, flickr.com/photos/darylchapman

And a landing in the 1970s (in German – HK footage from around 6:30)…

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via BenZ-fotos on Flickr

The airport saw a number of incidents over the years. The deadliest was a US Marines Hercules flight which plunged into the harbour shortly after take-off in 1965 killing 59. 24 passengers were killed during a typhoon landing in 1967 and, in 1993, a China Airlines Boeing dramatically overran the runway during a typhoon, though there were no fatalities…

By the 90s, booming HK was outgrowing Kai Tak’s limited capacity… The airport was designed to handle 24 million passengers per year but by 1996, Kai Tak was handling 29.5 million passengers, plus 1.56 million tonnes of freight, making it the third busiest airport in the world in terms of international passenger traffic…

Courtesy Daryl Chapman, flickr.com/photos/darylchapman

Night flight curfews, Kowloon building restrictions, pollution and noise forced the colonial government to seek an alternative location to replace the ageing airport…

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There were only eight boarding gates attached to the terminal building

A new airport at Chek Lap Kok, Lantau opened on July 6th, 1998. Meanwhile, at Kai Tak, a small ceremony celebrating the end of the airport was held inside the control tower after a final Cathay flight from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok took off. A speech was given, and the controller’s famous last words as he switched off the runway lights were “Goodbye Kai Tak, and thank you”…

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The site today, via keroseneian2003 on Flickr.

Private aviations activities were relocated to Sek Kong Airfield. The Kai Tak passenger terminal was later used for government offices, automobile dealerships and showrooms, a go-kart racecourse, a bowling alley, a snooker hall, a golf range and other recreational facilities. It was demolished in 2004. Click here for a ‘Farewell Kai Tak’ YouTube documentary, and another one here about its closure.

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Kai Tak is now set to become a sports hub and cruise ship terminal…

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Possible design of the new cruise terminal

It will open later this year and is designed to clear 3,000 passenger per hour.

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Click to enlarge this artist’s impression. Click here for more diagrams.

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Finally, behold an epic (truly epic) montage of successful – and a few very hairy – landings at Kai Tak. Turn up the speakers and watch through to the end – shit gets real around 2:30…

You may also enjoy: a Brief Visual History of the HK Skyline, a Brief Visual History of Kowloon Walled City or a Brief History of the TST Clock Tower. Click here for historical entries.

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An approach chart used by pilots – click to enlarge

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