|Kai Tak Airport
|Airport type||Public, Defunct|
|Operator||Civil Aviation Department|
|Location||Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong|
|Elevation AMSL||9 m / 30 ft|
|Kai Tak Airport|
|Cantonese Jyutping||Kai2 dak1 gei1 coeng4|
Kai Tak Airport (IATA:
HKG, ICAO: VHHH) was the international airport of Hong Kong from 1925 until 1998. It was officially known as the Hong Kong International Airport from 1954 to 6 July 1998, when it was closed and replaced by the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, 30 km to the west. It is often known as Hong Kong Kai Tak International Airport, or simply Kai Tak, to distinguish it from its successor which is often referred to as Chek Lap Kok 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, freight airline Air Hong Kong and Hong Kong Airways. The airport was also home to the former RAF Kai Tak.
Kai Tak was located on the west side of Kowloon Bay in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The vicinity is surrounded by rugged mountains. Less than 10 km (6.2 mi) to the north and northeast is a range of hills reaching an elevation of 2,000 ft (610 m). To the east of the runway, the hills are less than 5 km (3.1 mi) away. Immediately to the south of the airport is Victoria Harbour, and farther south is Hong Kong Island with hills up to 2,100 ft (640 m).
When Kai Tak closed there was only one runway in use, numbered 13/31 and oriented southeast/northwest (134/314 degrees true, 136/316 degrees magnetic). The runway was made by reclaiming land from the harbour and had been extended several times since its initial construction. The runway was 3,390 m (11,120 ft) long when the airport closed.
At the northern end of the runway, buildings rose up to six stories just across the road. The other three sides of the runway were surrounded by Victoria Harbour. The low altitude maneuver required to line up with the runway was so spectacular that some passengers claimed to have glimpsed the flickering of televisions through apartment windows along the final approach.
The story of Kai Tak started in 1922 when two businessmen Ho Kai and Au Tak formed the Kai Tak Investment Company in order 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 the piece of land. Soon, it became a small grass strip 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 which can be seen in old photographs. The first control tower and hangar at Kai Tak were built in 1935. In 1936, the first domestic airline in Hong Kong was established.
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 prisoners of war (POW) labourers, creating two concrete runways, 13/31 and 07/25. Numerous POW diary entries exist recalling the grueling work and long hours working on building Kai Tak. During the process, its construction destroyed the historic wall of the Kowloon Walled City, as well as the 45 m (148 ft) tall Sung Wong Toia memorial for the last Song dynasty emperor, for materials. A 2001 Environmental Study recommended a new memorial be erected for the Sung Wong Toi rock and other remnants of the Kowloon area before Kai Tak.
From September 1945 to August 1946 it was a Royal Navy shore base, "HMS Nabcatcher", the name previously attached to a Mobile Naval Air Base for the Fleet Air Arm. On 1 April 1947 a Royal Navy air station, HMS Flycatcher, was commissioned there.
A plan to modify Kai Tak to a modern airport was released in 1954. By 1957 runway 13/31 had been extended to 1,664 m while runway 7/25 remained 1,450 m long; Bristol Britannia 102s took over BOAC's London-Tokyo flights in summer 1957 and were probably the largest airliners to use the old airport. In 1958 the new NW/SE 2,542 m long runway extending into the Kowloon Bay was completed by land reclamation. The runway was extended to 3,390 m in 1975. The passenger terminal was completed in 1962.
An Instrument Guidance System (IGS) was installed in 1974 to aid landing on runway 13. Use of the airport under adverse conditions was greatly increased.
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 first 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. A night curfew from midnight to about 6:30 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. 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 new airport officially opened on 6 July 1998. All essential airport supplies and vehicles that were left in the old airport for operation (some of the non-essential ones had already been transported to the new airport) were transported to Chek Lap Kok in one early morning with a single massive move.
On 6 July 1998 at 01:28, after the last aircraft departed for Chek Lap Kok, Kai Tak was finally retired as an airport. The final flights were:
A small ceremony celebrating the end of the airport was held inside the control tower after the last flight took off. A speech was given, and the controller's last words as he switched off the runway lights were "Goodbye Kai Tak, and thank you".
After the last plane, a Cathay Pacific (A340-300), took off from Kai Tak International Airport to new Hong Kong International Airport at 01:28 HKT, Kai Tak was subsequently closed, transferring its ICAO and IATA airport codes to the replacement airport at Chek Lap Kok.
The 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. Government reports later revealed that Chek Lap Kok airport was not completely ready to be opened to the public despite trial runs held. Water supply and sewage were not installed completely. Telephones were available but the lines were not connected. The baggage system did not undergo extensive troubleshooting and passenger baggage as well as cargo, much of which was perishable, were lost. The government decided to temporarily reactivate Kai Tak's cargo terminal to minimise the damage caused by a software bug in the new airport's cargo handling system.
Between December 2003 and January 2004, the passenger terminal was demolished. Many aviation enthusiasts were upset at the demise of Kai Tak because of the unique runway 13 approach. As private aviation was no longer allowed at Chek Lap Kok (having moved to Sek Kong Airfield), some enthusiasts had lobbied to keep around 1 km (0.62 mi) of the Kai Tak runway for general aviation, but the suggestion was rejected as the Government had planned to build a new cruise terminal at Kai Tak.
The name Kai Tak is one of the names submitted by Hong Kong used in the lists of tropical cyclone names in the northwest Pacific Ocean.
The Kai Tak airport consisted of a linear passenger terminal building with a car park attached at the rear. There were eight boarding gates attached to the terminal building.
A freight terminal was located on the south side of the east apron and diagonally from the passenger terminal building.
Due to the limitation of space, the fuel tank farm was located between the passenger terminal and HACEO maintenance facilities (hangar).
Several airlines were based at Kai Tak:
Other tenants included:
The landing approach using runway 13 at Kai Tak was spectacular and world-famous. To land on runway 13, an aircraft first took a descent heading northeast. The aircraft would pass over the crowded harbour, and then the very densely populated areas of Western Kowloon. This leg of the approach was guided by an IGS (Instrument Guidance System, a modified ILS) after 1974.
Upon reaching a small hill marked with a huge "aviation orange" and white checkerboard (nautical miles (3.7 km) from touchdown, at a height of less than 1,000 feet (300 m) when the turn was made. Typically the plane would enter the final right turn at a height of about 650 feet (200 m) and exit it at a height of 140 feet (43 m) to line up with the runway. This manoeuver has become widely known in the piloting community as the "Hong Kong Turn" or "Checkerboard Turn".), used as a visual reference point on the final approach (in addition to the middle marker on the Instrument Guidance System), the pilot needed to make a 47° visual right turn to line up with the runway and complete the final leg. The aircraft would be just two
Landing the runway 13 approach was already difficult with normal crosswinds since even if the wind direction was constant, it was changing relative to the aircraft during the 47° visual right turn. The landing would become even more challenging when crosswinds from the northeast were strong and gusty during typhoons. The mountain range northeast of the airport also makes wind vary greatly in both speed and direction. From a spectator's point of view, watching large Boeing 747s banking at low altitudes and taking big crab angles during their final approaches was quite thrilling. Despite the difficulty, the runway 13 approach was nonetheless used most of the time due to the prevailing wind direction in Hong Kong.
Due to the turn in final approach, ILS was not available for runway 13 and landings had to follow a visual approach. This made the runway unusable in low visibility conditions.
Runway 13 was the preferred departure runway for heavy aircraft due to the clear departure path, opposite that of the runway 31 departure. Heavy aircraft on departure using runway 13 would commonly be observed using nearly the entire length of the runway, particularly during summer days due to the air temperature. These departures became the subject of many popular aviation photographs published throughout the world.
Landings on runway 31 were just like those on other normal runways where ILS landing was possible. Since the taxiway next to the runway would have been occupied by aircraft taxiing for takeoff, landing traffic could only exit the runway (to the right), at the very end.
When lined up for takeoff on runway 31, Lion Rock and Beacon Hill would be right in front of the aircraft. The aircraft had to make a sharp 65-degree left turn soon after takeoff to avoid the hills (i.e. the reverse of a Runway 13 landing). If a runway change occurred due to wind change from runway 13 departures to runway 31 departures, planes that were loaded to maximum payload for runway 13 departures had to return to the terminal to offload some goods in order to provide enough climbing clearance over buildings during a runway 31 departure.
In October 1998, the Government drafted a new plan for the old Kai Tak Airport site, involving a reclamation of 219 hectares. After receiving a large number of objections, the Government scaled down the reclamation to 166 hectares in June 1999. The Territorial Development Department commenced a new study on the development of the area in November 1999, entitled "Feasibility Studies on the Revised Southeast Kowloon Development Plan", and a new public consultation exercise was conducted in May 2000, further scaling down the land reclamation to 133 hectares. The new plans based on the feasibility studies were passed by the Chief Executive in July 2002. There were plans for the site of Kai Tak to be used for housing development, which was once projected to house around 240,000-340,000 residents. Due to calls from the public to protect the harbour and participate more deeply in future town planning, the scale and plan of the project are yet to be decided. There will also be a railway station and maintenance centre in the proposed plan for the Shatin to Central Link.
There were also proposals to dredge the runway to form several islands for housing, to build a terminal capable of accommodating cruise ships the size of the Queen Mary 2, and more recently, to house the Hong Kong Sports Institute, as well as several stadiums, in the case that the institute was forced to move so that the equestrian events of the 2008 Summer Olympics could be held at its present site in Sha Tin.
On 9 January 2004 the Court of Final Appeal ruled that no reclamation plan for Victoria Harbour could be introduced unless it passed an "overriding public interest" test. Subsequently, the Government abandoned the plans proposed in July 2002.
The Government set up a "Kai Tak Planning Review" in July 2004 for further public consultation. A number of blueprints have been presented.
A blueprint for the redevelopment of Kai Tak was issued by the government in June 2006. Under these proposals, hotels would be scattered throughout the 328-hectare site, and flats aimed at housing 86,000 new residents were proposed.
Other features of the plan include:
The Planning Department unveiled a major reworking of its plans for the old Kai Tak airport site on 17 October 2006, containing "a basket of small measures designed to answer a bevy of concerns raised by the public". The revised blueprint will also extend several "green corridors" from the main central park into the surrounding neighbourhoods of Kowloon City, Kowloon Bay and Ma Tau Kok.
The following features are proposed in the revised plan:
The following are major changes:
The government has promised that:
The new bridge proposed by the government, joining the planned hotel district at the end of the runway with Kwun Tong, could be a potential source of controversy. Under the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, no harbour reclamation can take place unless the Government can demonstrate to the courts an "overriding public need".
The new Kai Tak blueprint was presented to the Legislative Council on 24 October 2006 after review by the Town Planning Board.
In 2011, with the former Kai Tak area still abandoned, ideas were floated to develop the area for commercial property, citing shortages of office space and rising property costs.
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