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Wednesday 27 July 2016

A Tribute to Kai Tak Airport and Cathay Pacific Airbus A340

Welcome to my trip report from the past! 

Photos are credited to the respective photographers from Airliners.net and Jetphotos.net

My tribute to Cathay Pacific's Airbus A340-300 (Phrasing out at this time), being replaced by Airbus A350-900. 

This is the airline's Airbus A340-300

being replaced by the Airbus A350-900 aircraft


This trip took place before the taking over of Hong Kong in 1997 by China, so at that time this country was ruled by the British. I was quite a young kid back then I do remember roughly my first experience with this airline and not only that, it was my first time flying on the Airbus A340 too. Unfortunately, I wasn't old enough to experience the airline's Lockheed L-1011 as at that time, this aircraft type had already phrased out. So for this trip report, I like to share my experience with you on the famous Kai Tak Airport and runway 13 and Cathay Pacific's A340 which was new back then. Unfortunately, I was very young back then and technology wasn't advance so no photos were taken. Hope you enjoy this short review and for those non-aviation readers, do you recognise Kai Tak Airport? It was closed in 1998 and airport operation was shifted to the current airport: Chek Lap Kok Airport.

Kai Tak Airport

Kai Tak Airport was the old airport of Hong Kong that operated from 1925 to 1998. However, it was only recognised as the Hong Kong International Airport from 1954 onwards. The primary reason for the closure is because of the poor geographical position (noisy for residents living nearby and also challenging for pilots flying in) so the other airport Chek Lap Kok Airport was built and took over the duties from 1998 onwards. This airport was formerly home to Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary, Dragonair. Hong Kong Airlines didn't exact back then. 

The old map of Kai Tak Airport

Kai Tak Airport was not able to expand since its located in the middle of the residential area and the noise pollution for the nearby residents forced it to have a night curfew, that greatly affected cargo and passenger traffic. So it was a good idea for the international airport to relocate to somewhere far from the residential area, near Lantau Island.

The final flights for Kai Tak Airport took place on the 6th July 1998 and after the last take-off of Cathay Pacific Airbus A340-300, the airport was closed for good. Till today, there are some of us still talking about it, sharing our memories of this grand old airport which played a big role in Hong Kong aviation. I was fortunate to be able to experience the airport and its famous runway 13. 

Runway 13 offered a challenging route for pilots to land as it had to clear a small hill and make a sudden turn to align itself to the runway. The pilots cannot afford to make a mistake. If they did, they had to abort the landing and try again. As this is not challenging enough, the weather also played a big part to it and approach and landing had to be done visually so this added to the pilots' workload. 

There are human error accidents that happened at this airport - China Airlines Boeing 747-400 overshot the runway during landing and the aircraft ended up in the water. 

Here are some stunning landing shots from the A.net photographers

The view from the flight deck

The famous runway 13, for the other direction, its runway 31. 

Look at how challenging for the pilot to land to the aircraft. 

It was a spotter's paradise back then! If only I had spent more time here to spot. 

The pilots would be relieved to be on the ground safely. 

These aircraft making the runway 13 turn 

On final approach 

On ground photos 

Dominated by Cathay Pacific! Can you recognise the aircraft types, aviation buffs?

Cathay's L-1011 in the past (replaced by Airbus A330)

Boeing 707s during its heydays! 

A busy period during the good old days of Kai Tak

Air France Concorde used to fly to Kai Tak (Photo: Simon Wong)

British Airways Boeing 747-400 in the old classic Landor livery 

The observation deck 

 In the olden days on the street near Kai Tai Airport, the sight of aircraft flying over here is common. The tourists will look up to see what's coming in. 

Interior of Kai Tak Airport

The old observation deck - was closed to make way for airline lounges 

The sight of these shops brings back memories of this airport. I remember seeing a crowd at a corner and it turned out to be Andy Lau being surrounded by a group of girls. I was the only guy who asked for his autograph! 

A big difference between this and the current Hong Kong Airport. You can check out photos of the current airport on this trip report link.

The old taxi stand 

Cathay Pacific's Airbus A340 fleet 

This is the Airbus A340-200

Airbus A340-300 

A340-600 (3 were on leased and didn't stay for long as the Boeing 777-300ER type was chosen instead)

History of Cathay Pacific's Airbus A340 family

Cathay Pacific needed an aircraft to replace the L-1011 on short to medium-haul route and smaller capacity than the Boeing 747 series for long haul routes. Airbus won the order for both Airbus A330 and A340 types in the early 1990s. The first 4 A340 to be delivered to the airline were leased from Philippines Airlines and they were the -200 series. They entered the fleet in 1994 and left 2-3 years later when their own Airbus A340-300 entered the fleet 3 years later. Currently, only 5 Airbus A340-300 are still in operation and will be retired once more A350-900s are delivered. Altogether this airline has operated 25 A340s including the -600 series. This airline leased 3 Airbus A340-600 to evaluate the aircraft's performance and it flew with the airline for 5-6 years before returning to the lessor, ILFC (Aircraft leasing company). The airline made a decision to order the competitor's offering, the Boeing 777-300ER just after operating the A340-600s when they were new as they find Boeing's aircraft more suitable for its operation.

The original configuration of the A340-300: F8 C30 Y211

Recent configuration: C26 W28 Y211

F- First Class, C- Business Class, W- Premium Economy, Y- Economy Class

The Airbus A340-300 in normal livery

OneWorld livery

Cabin shot of the A340-300 (Old cabin - during the time I flew)

Business Class

Economy Class

My flight experience (HKG-SIN)

I was at Kai Tak Airport with my Sister and Dad in the 1997-1998 period just before Kai Tak Airport was closed. I remember him seeing us off which meant that both my sister and I were to fly back on our own. My sister was in her 20s so she took care of me along the way. At the check-in counter, I was telling my Dad how much I want to fly on the Boeing 747-400 and he asked the staff about the aircraft type and I heard the words A340. I wasn't familiar with this aircraft at that time, so I presumed it was a small aircraft. How disappointed I felt when I heard I wasn't flying on the Boeing 747-400, and to make it worse, I was not allocated to the window seat, I got the centre row aisle seat while my sister sat a row behind me.

The cabin I was on is exactly the same as the photo above (Economy Class) and I remember playing with the IFE system (PTV), the screen was flickering most of the time, so I gave up and bear with it for the rest of the flight. 

It was my first time on the A340-300 and I remember how underpowered it felt and I was surprised because it was powered by 4 engines, but yeah they were quite small for a wide-body aircraft. The Roll Royce Trent 500 engines on the A340-500 and -600 are bigger in comparison. 

CFM engine on the A340-200/-300

Roll Royce Trent 500 engine on the A340-500/-600

The service was good, the cabin crew took care of both of us well even though the flight was full. I can't remember the meal service but I enjoyed it. At that time I wasn't much into aviation and I was just simply counting down on the flight time and reached home to rest. 

I have been to Kai Tak Airport a few times but this is probably the only one I could remember. The airport may be outdated but it has something that the current airport doesn't have and that is the famous runway 13, standing at one of the rooftops, you can enjoy the view of the spectacular landing of the aircraft coming in. Great for spectators but nerve whacking for the souls on board. 

Video of the landing at Kai Tak Airport Runway 13 onboard a 744 (Airboyd)

Window shot photos


The Airbus A340-300 isn't my favourite aircraft and I used to dread it especially flying on the long haul. However as time passes by, my dislike for it faded and now I can't believe I am saying this but I will miss it. I am fortunate to have flown many times on this aircraft and what hits me immediately is how underpowered this aircraft, thanks to the CFM-56 engines. It's not a bad engine, but a bit more power thrust would be nice. My Cathay Pacific A340 ride was also my first experience with the airline and the impression I had was similar to Singapore Airlines crew. Now that the airline is left with a few Airbus A340-300 and Boeing 747-400, the future of quad aircraft is getting smaller with only the likes of Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8I continue to grace the sky for the next 2 decades. What happens after that, I reckon they will be eventually be replaced by even more advanced twin jets which a lot of passenger airlines are going for.  

Cathay Pacific's Boeing 747-400 last commercial flight takes place in September 2016 (Subject to changes)

Thanks for reading! 

For my other Cathay Pacific trip report: 

Airbus 330-300 SIN-HKG, click here
Boeing 777-300 HKG-SIN, click here


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