Kai Tak International Airport

From Academic Kids

Kai Tak (Hong Kong International) Airport
Type of Airport commercial
Opened 1925
Closed July 7, 1998
City Hong Kong
Distance from Town 0 kilometres (0 miles)
Latitude Longitude
2220"N 11411"E
Direction Length Surface
Feet Metres
13/31 11,122 3,390 Paved
Number of Passengers 29,500,000
Cargo (1996) 1.56m tonnes
Passenger (1996) 24,000,000
Cargo (1996) 1.5m tonnes
Apron (1996) 35

Hong Kong International Airport, popularly known as Kai Tak Airport (Chinese 啟德機場 Pinyin: Qǐd, WG: Ch'i-te, Enlighten & Virtuous) was the international airport of Hong Kong until July 6, 1998. Having the IATA airport code HKG as well as the ICAO airport code VHHH, both of which were taken over as codes for the new airport of the same name, the famous airport served as Cathay Pacific's, Dragonair's and Air Hong Kong's hub. It also has the ICAO code VHKT as the RAF air base.


Geographic Environment

Kai Tak was located in the north of Kowloon Bay in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The vicinity was surrounded by rugged mountains. Less than ten kilometers to the north and northeast was a range of hills reaching an altitude of 2000 ft. To the east of the runway, the hills were less than 5 kilometres away. Immediately to the south of the airport was the Victoria Harbour, and further south was Hong Kong Island with hills up to 1700 ft. There was only one runway at Kai Tak, oriented at 135 degrees and 315 degrees, hence its name 13/31. The runway was made by reclaiming land from the harbour and had been extended several times since its initial construction. Final length of the runway was 3390m.

Landing at Kai Tak could be both challenging and spectacular. Depending on the landing direction, the aircraft might need to pass over densely populated areas in Kowloon at low altitude. At the northern end of the runway, buildings up to 6 storeys tall rose just across the road. The other three sides of the runway were surrounded by the harbour. Aircraft were literally landing in the harbour within the city; some passengers claimed they could even see the flicker of televisions through apartment windows as they landed.

As well as the difficult and potentially dangerous landing, Hong Kong's growth stretched the airport's capacity. The airport was designed to handle 24 million passengers per year but it typically went over 28 million, plus 1.5 million tonnes of freight during its final years. The airport ran out of landing slots and parking bays, and flights had to be turned away. Moreover, the clearance requirements for aircraft takeoffs and landings enforced a limit on the height of the buildings that could be built on expensive Kowloon real estate. The airport 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, another Hong Kong International Airport, also known as "Chek Lap Kok Airport", was built on Chek Lap Kok near Lantau Island. In a remarkable testament to logistical planning, all of the supplies were transported to Chek Lap Kok in one evening with a single massive move while arriving planes were in the air. Kai Tak was subsequently retired, with its IATA Airport Code given to Chek Lap Kok airport.


The story of Kai Tak started in 1924. The location of Kai Tak belonged to two plutocrats Ho Kai and Au Tak, who owned the land before the government acquired it (the land originally did not have a name), which explains the name of the airport. First planned as an estate site, the land was given to the government after the plan failed. Soon, it became a small airport for the Royal Air Force, flying clubs and pilot training centre.

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 1943 the Japanese army extended Kai Tak and built an additional runway which extended across Clear Water Bay Road. During the process, they destroyed the historic wall of the Kowloon Walled City, as well as the 45m (148ft) tall Sung Wong Toi — a memorial for the last Song dynasty emperor. Japan surrendered shortly after the completion of the second runway in 1945.

An official plan to modify Kai Tak to a modern airport was released in 1954. In 1957, the original runways were replaced by a new NW/SE heading 2194m runway extending into the Kowloon Bay completed by land reclamation. The runway was extended to 2529m in 1970 and again to 3390m in 1975. In 1962, the passenger terminal was completed and Kai Tak became an international airport.

An Instrument Guidance System (IGS) was installed in 1974 to aid landing on runway 13. Utilization of the airport under adverse conditions was greatly increased.

At its beginning, Kai Tak was "far away" from residental areas, but as both residental areas and the airport expanded, Kai Tak became too close to the residental areas. There were many talks about a new airport but no plan really worked out due to various reasons. Finally in 1990, to boost the confidence of the population in the future of Hong Kong after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the Hong Kong government decided to go ahead with the so-called "Rose Garden Plan" of which the Chek Lap Kok International Airport was the centrepiece.

On July 7 1998 at 1:28am, Kai Tak was finally retired as an airport. The passenger terminal was eventually transformed into government offices, automobile dealerships, a go kart racecourse, snooker, recreational facilities, a bowling alley, car sales showrooms and a golf range.

Many aviation enthusiasts were upset at the demise of Kai Tak because of the unique approach. As private aviation is not allowed at Chek Lap Kok, some enthusiasts had lobbied to keep around 1km of the Kai Tak runway for general aviation.

By December 2003 and January 2004, the passenger terminal was dismantled.

The 13 approach

Missing image
On this satellite photo, the strip of land extending into the sea is the runway of Kai Tak. To the North, East and South are mountains.

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 on 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 checkerboard in red and white, 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 nautical miles from touchdown, at a height of less than 1000 ft when the turn was made. Landing the 13 approach would become even more challenging when crosswinds from the northeast were strong and gusty during typhoons. From a spectator's point of view, watching fully-loaded Boeing 747s banking at low altitudes and taking big crab angles during their final approaches was quite the thrill. Despite the difficulty, it was nonetheless used most of the time due to the prevailing wind direction in Hong Kong.


Despite its challenging approach and mountainous geographical surroundings, there were relatively few accidents at Kai Tak. Some of the most serious accidents at Kai Tak during its forty years of service were:

  • 11 March 1951 - A Douglas C-54 from the Pacific Overseas Airlines crashed into Mount Parker on Kowloon after take off. Captain of the aircraft failed to execute the turn left operation after departure.
  • 09 April 1951 - A Douglas DC-3 lost control on its turn onto final approach.
  • 24 August 1965 - A US Marines Lockheed Hercules lost control shortly after take off from runway 13. The plane plunged and sank into the harbour. 59 of the 71 soldiers on board were killed. This was the deadliest accident at Kai Tak.
  • 30 June 1967 - A Thai International Airways Sud Aviation SE210 crashed into the sea while landing during a typhoon.
  • 18 October 1983 - A Lufthansia Boeing 747 freighter abandoned take off after engine #2 malfunctioned, probably at speed exceeding V1 (the takeoff/abort decision point). The aircraft overran the runway and blocked its operation for several days.
  • 31 August 1988 - A China CAAC Hawker Siddeley Trident hit approach lights of the 31 runway while landing under rain and fog. The aircraft ran off the runway and slipped into the harbour.
  • 4 November 1993 - A China Airlines Boeing 747 overran the 13 runway while landing during a typhoon. The wind was gusting to gale force at the time. Despite the plane's unstable approach the captain did not go around. It touched down more than 2/3 down the runway and was unable to stop before the runway ran out.
  • 23 September 1994 - A Lockheed Hercules lost control shortly after take off from runway 13. The pitch control system of one of its propellers was said to have failed.

(If Project Bojinka had not been discovered after a fire in Manila, Philippines, one or more aircraft owned by a U.S. carrier/s flying from this airport might have blown up over the Pacific Ocean on January 21, 1995 as part of the project's first phase.)

Future plans for the site

Currently the harbour-facing tip of the runway is used as a golf driving range.

There are 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 are also proposals to dredge the runway forming several islands built with housing on, to build a terminal accommodating cruise ships size of Queen Mary 2, and more recently, to house the Hong Kong Sports Institute as well as several stadiums in case it is forced to moved, due to concerns that the equestrian events of the 2008 Summer Olympics may be held at the institute's present site in Sha Tin.

See also

External links

fr:Aroport international Kai Tak zh:啟德機場


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