Travel Adventures at Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong

Final Approach

A Cathay Pacific 747 on its final approach to Kai Tak Airport.
A Cathay Pacific 747 on its final approach to Kai Tak Airport. | Source

Hair-Raising Landings

For airline pilots Hong Kong's Kai Tak International Airport, Hong Kong was among the most challenging airplane landings in the world. For passengers the landing was one of the most thrilling and hair-raising.

Kai Tak Airport was situated almost in the heart of Kowloon island in Hong Kong and its millions of residents.

The runway was located in a spot down by the harbour and not far from steeply rising mountains that forced aircraft pilots make a sharp right turn at an altitude of under 220 meters (700 feet) in order to avoid a hilltop and nearby high-rise buildings.

Passengers would look out their windows to see the steep mountains. Then they would be aware of a sharp right turn and banking of their aircraft. Finally, as the plane went into its final descent, passengers could see (and could almost lean out and touch) commercial billboards covered with huge brightly-colored Chinese characters flashing past.

Kai Tak Airport closed on 5th July 1998. But for those who were there in the 1970s, 1980s and and 1990s -- and for those who can see the videos on this hub -- the nostalgia remains!

Photo: A 747 jetliner (Cathay Pacific) on its final approach to Kai Tak Airport. Photographer: Ywchow.

Roller coaster retrospective on Kai Tak Airport

Why I Loved Kai Tak Airport (1)

A traveler reports during one evening flight in the mid-1990s, he was permitted to sit in the spare seat in the cockpit. The landing was extremely dramatic (during the last minute or two, the traveler was gripping on his seat for dear life).

The landing had its funny aspect too as at one stage one would see a huge flashing yellow arrow on a Kowloon hilltop (seemingly reminding the pilot to bank hard to the right so that the plane could reach the runway below).

China Air 747 Lands with a Bounce at Kai Tak

Why I Loved Kai Tak Airport (2)

Former Hong kong resident, Jonathan Stanley, reports that when he was a child he used to stand on the roof on top of an 18 storey building in Lok Fu in Wong Tai Sin district and watch 747 jets fly past at eye level at a distance of not more than 300 meters (1000 feet) away.

He regrets that he did not use his family's SLR to take some photos of these amazing scenes , not to take photos when taking off or landing at Kai Tak.

Japan Airlines Crosswind Landing at Kai Tak

Why I Loved Kai Tak Airport (3)

Back in the 1990s I flew to Hong Kong a number of times and was certainly always impressed by the dramatic final minutes before touch down at Kai Tak International Airport.

Landing at Kai Tak certainly dropped you right into the middle of the colour and activity of East Asia. Kai Tak Airport was so much more centrally located and had a lot more character than the new Chek Lap Kok airport that replaced it.

- Violeta Quisora, FabulousPhilippines.com

Kai Tak - July 1998 - IGS RWY13 and ILS RWY31 with A330 jumpseat

A Kai Tak landing as filmed from inside the cockpit: "Your first landing is hair-raising... but it's ALWAYS breathtaking!"

747 Crazy Landing at Kai Tak

747 crazy landing at Kai Tak - Why did it happen? An extra 3 seconds of video inserted to explain all!

Huge Chinese Character Signs Greet Cathay Pacific Boeing Making a Final Approach to Land at Kai Tak

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Great photos of planes landing at Kai Tak (one lands in the Harbour)

A Boeing 767 on final approach to Kai Tak Airport

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Three Kai Tak Crosswind Landings 1998

Three spectators watch Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400 on Final Approach

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Landings at Kai Tak with Crosswinds

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Where Exactly is Kai Tak?

Kai Tak Airport Closed in 1998. So What's Next?

The following photos show the Kai Tak site after the Airport closed there in 1998 and relocated to the island of Chek Lap Kok.

Kai Tak Airport Site Seen in 2007 From the Regal Oriental Hotel - Ready for Redevelopment. What a Let Down after its Exciting History!

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At Least the Beauty of Hong Kong Harbor is Still There for All to See!

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Meanwhile, the Famous Checkerboard (at Kowloon Tsai Signal Hill) is being Slowly Reclaimed by the Tropical Jungle

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Students Play Games at Munsang College, Perhaps Oblivious to the Famous Checkerboard Signal Hill Above Them!

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Reader Responses - Thank You, Everyone! (NOTE: If you wish to comment, please do so in Comments box at end of this page)

Many wonderful people have contacted me to say they have enjoyed this page (that was previously located on Squidoo) and to recount their experiences of Kai Tak Airport and Hong Kong in the old days:

Tolovaj, Jan. 15, 2014: You have made a full length documentary here! Isn't amazing how many stories are hidden behind these photos and videos? Well done!

TravelTourist, Nov. 26, 2013: As a keen traveler but terrible passenger on an aircraft I have to admit I wasn't sad to see the new airport open, I prefer my adventures on the ground rather than the air lol. I have always been a fan of adventure travel and have written a few lenses on different places if you are interested [visit the TravelTourist lensmaster pages on Squidoo]

sukkran, Oct. 8. 2013: enjoyed your great vid collection. good work

Auriel, Feb. 27, 2013: great lens

Infohouse, Jan. 27, 2013: I miss Kai Tak Airport. It was one of a kind experience flying into that airport.

ifancythat, Jan. 2, 2013: I remember those great moments!

skiesgreen, Jan. 1, 2013: A new blessing on this lovely lens and may you have a wonderful, successful and happy 2013. Hugs

TedWritesStuff, Dec. 26, 2012: Glad I missed landing there!

eTravelSense, Aug. 8, 2012: Great lens. Never got the chance to land at Kai Tak. Wish it was still open.

skiesgreen, Jul. 25, 2012: Great lens and I heard many a pilot complain about this very airport and how they had to dodge the mountains and things aside from the short landing strip. Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012-2 and also on Aircraft and Aeronautics in Motion. Hugs

TheLifestyleChanger, Jul. 25, 2012: I have been fortunate to land in Hong Kong this way, soaking up the colour, atmosphere and almost the soap suds from the laundry hanging out high rise apartment windows on the way down. Blessings.

blastfromthepast, Jul. 25, 2012 (replying to TheLifestyleChanger): Ha ha! Me too! When I used to land at Kai Tak back in those days, I felt that I could almost lean and touch the apartments flashing past!

Anon., Jul. 3, 2012: Great lens, well done! Thumbs up

Anon., Jun. 24, 2014: Some fantastic footage, congrats.

desa999, Mar. 8, 2012: We were amazed to see into people's houses when we landed there. Quite an experience.

mihgasper, Feb. 14, 2012: Spectacular lens, thanks!

Edutopia, Feb. 14, 2012: Kai Tak seemed like a very bad idea that was the best of many very very bad ideas on airport placement and even though those landings would be awesome to see in person its probably for the best that it closed down.

blastfromthepast, Jul. 25, 2012 (replying to Edutopia): Yes, you are probably right. Putting up with all the aircraft noise and vibrations as a resident must have been pretty difficult.

indiavacationplans, Feb. 10, 2012: Thank you for the awesome lens.

Anon., Feb. 3, 2012: I'm revisiting to thank you for your visit and kind words on my Beautiful Hong Kong lens. It's truly appreciated. Sorry I's so late answering--under the weather for a while and just getting caught up. This is an amazing lens! Watching these videos again makes me doubly thankful I didn't have to land at Kai Tak!

yfcaaron, Feb. 2, 2012: very nice! Get at least 20 SquidLikes Help

DavidDove, Nov. 8, 2011: Can I open my eyes yet?

Anon., Apr. 13, 2011: Yep, Lantau Airport took a lot of planning and money (it's a man made island to cater for the current airport) but is was much needed. I lived in TST, Kowloon a few years ago, and of course the Kowloon Airport had been well gone, so it was always hard to imagine that an airport once existed there. Not to mention Hong Kong Island (on the opposite side of Victoria Harbour) has a skyline comparable to Manhattan, so however the planes found the room to avoid that is beyond my imagination. Visit my page for more about Hong Kong & Hong Kong shopping.

Kathy002, Mar. 1, 2011: Really interesting lens. I loved all the videos.

Anon., Jan. 18, 2011: Great lens! Having heard about Kai Tak from my fiancé, a former Navy pilot and intrepid flyer (who loved landing there) I was very thankful (as a white-knuckle flyer at the best of times) that when I went to Hong Kong, Kai Tak's days were over and my plane landed at Chek Lap Kok! I'm doubly thankful after seeing some of the landings here.

Anon., Dec. 21, 2011: This is an awesome blog. I enjoyed the aircraft landings! (...)

ShamanicShift, Oct. 10, 2011: Great lens & gripping topic--I enjoyed.

WriterBuzz, Oct. 8, 2011: This is a great lens. Thanks for making it. Very informative. I gave you a thumbs up

cause I like your lens.

vw, Aug. 26, 2010: Thanks for this great lens! I'm from HongKong and have been through Kai Tak many many times. The photos and videos you have sure brings back great memories. As a kid, I always thought "how can the planes not hit the buildings?!'. Well that's thanks to the many great professional pilots who navigated through Kai Tak! It was scary at times when landing in HongKong's old airport, but it also brought a terrific birds eye view of the city (especially at night).

JetAviator7, Aug. 13, 2010: This is one of the hardest airports I ever flew in or out of, and glad its gone now. Since retirement don't get to fly much, so I have to enjoy time with my grandkids flying their rubber band airplanes - not quite the same!

blastfromthepast, Aug. 13, 2010 (replying to JetAviator7): Hello JetAviator7, As a mere mortal in the passenger section, I used to love landing at Kai Tak; but I understand that it must have been a stressful experience for those in the cockpit. I enjoyed looking at the products on the website, thepaperairplanecompany.com , that you co-founded. What a great way for young people to get a first taste and some understanding of aviation!

EditorDave, Jun. 7, 2010: Nice lens! I flew in and out of Kai Tak Airport in summer 1971... and it was definitely an "E-Ticket" ride! In December 2008, my family and I returned to Hong Kong and Kowloon by flying in to the new Hong Kong International Airport on Lantau Island. Definitely a more relaxing experience. I've lensrolled you to my Hong Kong and Kowloon lenses. Thumb's Up and Favorited! She she ni! (Do ja le!)

timoteoharvey, Apr. 17, 2010: I lived in Kowloon Tong from 69-75 about 0.5 kilometers from the checkerboard hill that the pilots used to line up for their approach. The landings were irritating but tolerable. The takeoffs were ear-splitting. I spoke with a pilot once and asked him his opinion about landing at Kai Tak. He said that he hated it and closed his eyes every time. What an amazing place. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to be in the cockpit of a jet that landed or took off from there.

I lived in HK from 66-75 at 28 Oxford Rd in the flight path of Kai Tak, 1.3 miles WNW from the NW end of runway 13. The landings were noisy enough but the takeoffs were earsplitting. We use to sit on our flat roof top and watch the planes land. I spoke with a pilot one time and asked him what he thought of landing at Kai Tak. He said he hated it and he closed his eyes every time. What an amazing place! I wish I could have been in the cockpit just once in a plane that landed there!

Sardine55, Apr. 27, 2011 (replying to timoteoharvey): This has to be Astonishment #10 on a scale of 1-8.

We were neighbors in 1966 and up until September of 1967, when I left via Air France for Saigon. Ice cream cake for dessert. I'd been there since 1961 as Assistant Station Manager for Civil Air Transport where I worked sometimes very long days at Kai Kak if there were delays. I lived at #21 Oxford Road, 2nd fl. Our Offices were in the Penninsula Hotel, #8 East Wing Arcade.

I grew claustophobic at the refugee overcrowding (do you remember that squatter settlement at the end of our street?) ...the water rationing, I could go on and on, but when the harbor smells drifted over towards the Terminal Building and I stood there on the hot bright tarmac welcoming our deplaning passengers to Hong Kong in my American accent and white shorts and long white socks....I'm sure I was a curiosity, and I loved every moment of that oddity, but made some very good friends at the Airport Bar later after work....mutual curiosity. I knew a few of the tower controllers, they let me up there to watch....a very, very great privilege.

The Air France crews used to have their meals at the Miramar Hotel's terminal building restaurant at a table away from the mob... behind screens...so no one would see them drinking wine.

Kai Tak was, of course, an unforgettable, formative, influential part of my life.

Cheers!

[ P.S....are you the one, by an even wilder chance, just across the street who kept that screeching parrot on your veranda?]

timoteoharvey, Apr. 28, 2011 (replying to Sardine55): We lived at 25 Oxford road in the ground floor apartment of the building on the corner, just a couple of doors down from you. We were there for the first 6 months. Then we moved to 28 Oxford, which is down just in front of the tennis courts. I was 13 years old and attended King George V (Three cheers for the Lion!) just off Argyle and Tin Kwong Road. Then my brother and I transferred over to HKIS in Repulse Bay. My dad taught chemistry at HK Baptist College (now HK Baptist University) up on Waterloo Road just before you go through the tunnel out to Sha Tin.

I actually committed a typo on my last post. We arrived in January of '69, not '66. I missed all of the resettlement and water rationing, although others told us many stories of those days. They also told us about the bombs that different factions of resistance placed around the colony.

I have many fond memories of that magical place. As to the screeching parrots, we were not the owners, although the landlords had a couple of great danes that made a lot of noise.

MikyMike, Apr. 16, 2010: Great lens buddy. Awesome videos.

Anon., Apr. 1, 2010: This lens is awesome. I love it. I am going to tell my editors on my Thai News website to write something about this lens and probably feature it.

I will comment here again once we do.

Great Work

RunwayModels, Apr. 24, 2009: Oh yeah! Kai Tak was the BEST! Some of the best crosswind landings ever!

(...)

Cheers,

Ted

Liam_Tohms, Apr. 6, 2009: This is a great lens, it is fun to watch those approaches over and over again. I'm a private pilot in the UK and have created a Flying and Aviation group to collate all the quality Squidoo lenses on this subject. Why don't you come and join us at (...)

Anon., May 10, 2008: Hong Kong is beautiful and so is the Kai Tak airport. (...)

gwkell, Feb. 28, 2008: Thanks for the great lens. I'd like more information about Adventure Travel

thomasz, Feb. 13, 2008: Nice lens. Great info.

James_ORear, Feb. 1, 208: Fantastic, a spotter's dream that sadly only comes to life in simulators anymore. Thanks for sowing us what it was really like!!!

kathysart, Oct. 1, 2007: Great lens1 5 HUGE stars! I did not know of Kai Tak.. I need to get out more! ha! (...) Aloha, Kathy

ebizsales, Sep. 28, 2007: wow! that's awesome! i guess :) i always wanted to go to Hong kong but now iam thinking twice about it. Maybe i will take a boat from China :)

dc_zhen, Sep. 23, 2007: Hi Blast from the Past,

I love your lens! And I also like the concept that you have for your lens... makes for a very interesting and informative read. 5 stars! p.s.- thanks for coming to my lens earlier and for the very kind words! You rock too! cheers.

ilovemusic, Sep. 12, 2007: I remember Kai Tak too. I was lucky enough to live the adventure of landing there about ten times, although I don't how the locals used to put up with the bone-shaking environment.

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Comments 2 comments

Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 22 months ago from Wisconsin, USA

Those are some amazing photos and to see the planes so close to buildings. It would be interesting to be there.


Violeta Quisora profile image

Violeta Quisora 2 years ago

I used to live in Hong Kong and I well remember Kai Tak Airport. Landing there in the early 1990s was definitely dramatic!

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