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Posted by David Reed on 07/29/2020

Kai Tak International Airport

     In the 1920's Kai Tak International Airport began as a housing development by some corrupt investors. It failed and though the land had been cleared, no apartments were built. By 1930 the government had taken over the land and it was used as a flying field. Along came the RAF and turned it into a "proper" airport. Two runways and a big hangar. They dismantled the hangar before the Japanese took over in WW2. The Japanese tried to enlarge the runways and use concrete, but the Canadian laborers added too much sand and the concrete crumbled when the first airplane landed there. After the war the RAF returned and rebuilt the runways as 13-31 and 07-25. The eastern half was the RAF base and the western half was the civilian terminal. Airline traffic flourished after the war. Many airlines from around the world flew there including Cathay Pacific, PanAm, Quantas, BOAC and many others. In the late 1950's Hong Kong made improvements so the new jets could utilize it by reclaiming land, lengthening runway 13-31 to 5459' in 1957, then 8350' on a new runway, then in 1974 to 11,130'. The new runway replaced the old 13-31 and 25-07. The RAF was gone and the civilian western end developed into a large and beautiful terminal with extensive ramp space.

     Due to terrain, takeoffs were permitted on runway 13 only. Landings happened in either direction. A special Checkerboard Approach was developed for runway 13, requiring special pilot training. Aircraft flew in on a standard ILS but at about two miles from the runway, with a large checkerboard on the hill in front of them, the pilots would make a 47 deg turn to the right, usually starting at 650'. Wings level on final occurred around 140'. Many people have said you could see television sets running in apartments as they flew by. Very few accidents occured at Kai Tak. 

     In 1998 the new airport opened and Kai Tak officially closed with a champagne celebration in the control tower. Hong Kong government is very in touch with the people of Hong Kong. A low income housing development and a ship terminal were installed in the Kai Tak land before the people demanded a say in the development. Today, any redevelopment plans must have public approval. Current development leans toward higher income residences, parks and shopping areas. But those that lived under the Checkerboard Approach will never forget those days and nights when Pratt & Whitney jets thundered by every few minutes, interrupting any conversation or TV show. 



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