Kai Tak International Airport (IATA: HKG, ICAO: VHHH) was the international airport of Hong Kong from 1925 until 1998. It was officially known as Hong Kong International Airport from 1954 to 6 July 1998, when it was closed and replaced by a new one at Chek Lap Kok, 30 kilometres (19 mi) to the west. It is often known as Hong Kong International Airport, Kai Tak, or simply Kai Tak, to distinguish it from its successor which is often referred to as Chek Lap Kok International Airport. With numerous skyscrapers and mountains located to the north and its only runway jutting out into Victoria Harbour, landings at the airport were dramatic to experience and technically demanding for pilots. The History Channel program Most Extreme Airports ranked it as the 6th most dangerous airport in the world.
The airport was home to Hong Kong's international carrier Cathay Pacific, as well as regional carrier Dragonair (now known as Cathay Dragon), freight airline Air Hong Kong and Hong Kong Airways. The airport was also home to the former RAF Kai Tak.
1920s to 1930s
The story of Kai Tak started in 1912 when two businessmen Ho Kai and Au Tak formed the Kai Tak Investment Company to reclaim land in Kowloon for development. The land was acquired by the government for use as an airfield after the business plan failed.
In 1924, Harry Abbott opened The Abbott School of Aviation on that piece of land. Soon, it became a small grass strip runway airport for the RAF and several flying clubs which, over time, grew to include the Hong Kong Flying Club, the Far East Flying Training School, and the Aero Club of Hong Kong, which exist today as an amalgamation known as the Hong Kong Aviation Club. In 1928, a concrete slipway was built for seaplanes that used the adjoining Kowloon Bay. The first control tower and hangar at Kai Tak were built in 1935. In 1936, the first domestic airline in Hong Kong was established.
World War II
Hong Kong fell into the hands of the Japanese in 1941 during World War II. In 1942, the Japanese army expanded Kai Tak, using many Allied prisoner-of-war (POW) labourers, building two concrete runways, 13/31 and 07/25. Numerous POW diary entries exist recalling the gruelling work and long hours working on building Kai Tak. During the process, the historic wall of the Kowloon Walled City and the 45-metre (148 ft) tall Sung Wong Toi, a memorial for the last Song dynasty emperor, were destroyed for materials. A 2001 Environmental Study recommended that a new memorial be erected for the Sung Wong Toi rock and other remnants of the Kowloon area before Kai Tak.
1945 to 1970s
From September 1945 to August 1946, the airport was a Royal Navy shore base, "HMS Nabcatcher",
A plan to modify Kai Tak into a modern airport was released in 1954. By 1957, runway 13/31 had been extended to 1,664 metres (5,459 ft), while runway 7/25 remained 1,450 metres (4,760 ft) long. Bristol Britannia 102s took over BOAC's London-Tokyo flights in summer 1957 and were probably the largest airliners at the time to use the old airport. In 1958, the new NW/SE 2,550-metre (8,350 ft) long runway extending into Kowloon Bay was completed by land reclamation. The passenger terminal was completed in 1962. The runway was extended in the mid-1970s to 3,390 metres (11,130 ft) as the final length. This extension was completed in June 1974, but the full length of the runway was not put into use until 31 December 1975, as construction of the new Airport Tunnel had kept the northwestern end of the runway closed.
In 1955 Kai Tak Airport featured in the film The Night My Number Came Up.
An Instrument Landing System (ILS) was installed in 1974 to aid landing on runway 13. Use of the airport under adverse conditions was greatly increased.
During the 1970s, an aircraft crash happened and carried out the potential loss of life, which rose the problem of high- density residential developments around the airport, even though there were no serious accidents at the airport since starting.
Overcrowding in the 1980s and 1990s
The growth of Hong Kong also put a strain on the airport's capacity. Its usage was close to, and for some time exceeded, the designed capacity. The airport was designed to handle 24 million passengers per year, but in 1996, Kai Tak handled 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, and busiest in terms of international cargo throughput. Moreover, clearance requirements for aircraft takeoffs and landings made it necessary to limit the height of buildings that could be built in Kowloon. While Kai Tak was initially located far away from residential areas, the expansion of both residential areas and the airport resulted in Kai Tak being close to residential areas. This caused serious noise pollution for nearby residents and put height restrictions, which were removed after Kai Tak closed. A night curfewfrom 11:30pm to 6:30am in the early morning also hindered operations.
As a result, in the late 1980s, the Hong Kong Government began searching for alternative locations for a new airport in Hong Kong to replace the aging airport. After deliberating on a number of locations, including the south side of Hong Kong Island, the government decided to build the airport on the island of Chek Lap Kok off Lantau Island. The new airport is located far away from Hong Kong's main residential areas, conduce to minimise the dangers of a major crash and also reducing the nuisance of noise pollution. A huge number of resources were mobilised to build this new airport, part of the ten programmes in Hong Kong's Airport Core Programme.
The Regal Meridien Hong Kong Airport Hotel, linked to the passenger terminal by a footbridge spanning Prince Edward Road, opened on 19 July 1982. This was Hong Kong's first airport hotel, and comprised 380 rooms including 47 suites. As of 2018 the hotel still exists, but the footbridge has been demolished. It is one of the few remaining buildings related to Kai Tak Airport.
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