From its fanfare opening in 1925 to its closure almost 45 years later on 6 July 1998, Kai Tak was the major Hong Kong airport that provided a spectacular aerial backdrop for passengers arriving at, or departing from, the former British colony.
However, with a runway that jutted out almost its entire length into Victoria Harbour, mountains to the north and surrounded on three sides by skyscrapers, landings at Hong Kong airport were always challenging for pilots. Frequent crosswinds and monsoon conditions often made for scary touchdowns for quite a few flights!
An airport with only one runway, conceived and constructed in an age of smaller propeller-driven aircraft it started to struggle from the jet age onwards, especially following the introduction of Boeing 747s, and when the Airbus first touted its double-decker A380 super airliner, the writing was on the wall for Kai Tak.
Following the handing back of Hong Kong back to China when the UK’s lease on the colony was up, the new masters of the dominion decided to construct a brand new airport further along the coastline on an artificially constructed island, but one with a far easier approach than Kai Tak.
It wasn’t the difficult approach for pilots that finally forced the relocation of Hong Kong airport, but rather the need to increase its capability and capacity to handle more traffic and larger jets. For, in addition to being the fifth busiest airport for passenger traffic, Hong Kong is also the world’s biggest cargo handling airport and is a prominent hub for entry into China. The old airport at Kai Tak simply couldn’t handle the level of anticipated traffic for a location situated in such a strategic site for South East Asia trade.
Now, all flights to Hong Kong International Airport arrive at Chep Lak Kok which, nine years after opening, added a second terminal building in 2007. With two runways the airport is capable of handling 50million passengers per year and 85 different airlines now use it flying to 150 world destinations.
Situated 18 miles to the west from its outdated predecessor, the new Hong Kong International Airport is a far superior facility conceived, designed and built for the 21st century, but the operators are not resting on their laurels. Plans for refurbishment and improvement have already begun and will see a change to the lay-out of the departures’ Immigration Hall, as well structural improvements to the runways and taxiways to cope with ever-increasing traffic. There is even talk of construction of a third runway as the airport firmly cements its place as the hub to southern China.