Bring back some good or bad memories


February 28, 2024

Behold These Airplanes Flying Low Over Hong Kong in the 1990s

Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport has a special place in aviation history and memories. It was located in the central built-up city area, with large widebody aircraft making a dramatic and challenging approach to land. It closed in 1998, but the memory of 747s and other large aircraft flying low over the city remains.

There may not be two other words that carry the same weight among aviation geeks as “Kai Tak.” Speak the name of Hong Kong’s old airport to anybody who fancies themselves a commercial aviation expert, and you'll inevitably hear back some version of “Oh, that landing!”

Closed in 1998 to make way for a bigger — and way easier to land at — airport, Kai Tak was famous for a fiendishly difficult approach to a runway in the middle of Kowloon Bay that forced pilots to maneuver steeply, just above the roofs of a heavily populated city, before hitting the brakes hard to avoid ending up in the water.

Think New York’s notoriously tough LaGuardia, surrounded by water and with short runways — but with mountains on one side, skyscrapers on the other, sometimes a typhoon to contend with, and with much bigger and heavier airplanes. The place was a haunt for AvGeeks who came to photograph 747s making the last turn to align with the runway, right over buildings housing thousands of people.

Kai Tak closed in July 1998, and its operations were transferred to the new Chek Lap Kok airport that inherited its three-letter HKG code, as well as its four-letter VHHH identifier. The new airport did not inherit, though, any of the problems of the old HKG. Getting in doesn’t require the same finesse while hand-flying a double-decker with 400 people in it.

Today, Kai Tak is a cruise ship terminal. Many captains who flew into it are retiring. But the images survive — taken during the last days of film photography, they are grainy look at an AvGeek wonder that went away two decades ago.

1 comment:

  1. As a passenger, I flew into Kai Tak in the 1980s and the new airport after it opened. The old Kai Tak approach was interesting and I doubt I'll encounter anything like it again. There are a few videos on line that show the experience of flying into Kai Tak. They are well worth the view.




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