22 October 2016
A Cathay Pacific plane approaches the runway at Kai Tak in 1998. Photo: Daryl Chapman
A Cathay Pacific plane approaches the runway at Kai Tak in 1998. Photo: Daryl Chapman

End of an era: Cathay’s beloved 747 bids farewell to HK

Look up at the sky this Saturday morning and chances are you are going to see the big, bulbous yet elegant silhouette of the Queen of the Skies for the very last time.

Cathay Pacific will fly its last remaining Boeing 747-400 passenger plane, the 21-year-old B-HUJ operating as CX8747, over the city’s pearlescent harbor at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, the last time it will do so as it speeds up the phaseout of old airplanes for newer, more fuel-efficient models.

B-HUJ was also the first passenger plane that landed at the city’s new airport on July 6, 1998, operating on a flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, the world’s longest passenger flight route back then.

For days the beloved jumbo jet’s sentimental last flyover dominated local social media discourse with aviation aficionados recommending the best spots to wave a final, perhaps teary, goodbye to the pear-shaped double-decker.

These include Victoria Peak, Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, Kai Tak Runway Park and Cruise Terminal, Kennedy Town Praya and the observatory of the 118-storey International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon.

The humpbacked plane, said to be carrying the flight crew and ground staff with their families, is scheduled to take off from Chek Lap Kok at 10:30 a.m. and fly over Victoria Harbour five minutes later.

That, however, is subject to airport traffic and weather conditions.

For 37 years, the jumbo jets have opened up international travel, and propelled Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong to a leading status in the global aviation industry.

The 747 made connecting families and people in far-flung places affordable and less time-consuming, thus giving many Hongkongers their first taste of intercontinental travel.

Its popularity coincided with the rise of Hong Kong as a thriving trade and financial hub.

The giant iron bird made those summer holidays visiting families and friends overseas extra special.

“After carrying 106 million passengers 3.1 million hours in the air, the total flying hours of all of Cathay’s passenger 747s combined, it has finally flown off to a well-earned retirement,” Cathay Pacific said in a press release.

Cathay’s first 747 was delivered in Everett, Washington in 1979, carrying the registration code VR-HKG.

At its peak, Cathay had 38 jumbo jets, one of the world’s largest 747 fleets.

Cathay’s last 747 commercial flight was CX543, which flew from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Hong Kong on Oct. 1, China’s National Day.

Its last long-haul 747-400 flight was from San Francisco to Hong Kong in August 2014.

A 747 plane flying low over the rooftops of Kowloon as it approaches the now defunct Kai Tak airport is one of the most memorable images of the airline.

During landing, a pilot had to turn the plane and enter the harbor from the west, and when flying over the Kowloon Tsai Park in Kowloon City, the plane would just be less than 300 meters above the ground and the pilot would have to look for a small hill inside the park marked with a huge orange and white checkerboard (famously called “Checkerboard Hill”) as the sign for a sharp right turn to line up with the runway for the final approach.

But Cathay’s last CX8747 flight on Saturday will not be the end of the airline’s love affair with 747. 

As the world’s largest cargo carrier, Cathay has 14 freighter 747s (747-8F) and seven 747-400 freighters in service. Click here for a peep into Cathay’s 747-8 freighter.

The 747-8 is the latest variant of the model with redesigned wings and lengthened fuselage, making it the world’s longest commercial jet.

And, you will still see 747s at the Hong Kong airport. Other major airlines including United, British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, Korean Air and EVA Air will continue to use 747-400 and 747-8 on their Hong Kong routes.

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A Cathay 747, sporting the old livery, makes a final maneuver before landing at Kai Tak. Photo: Cathay Pacific

The upper deck cabin of Cathay 747 back in the 1980s. Photo: Cathay Pacific

Many Hongkongers enjoyed their long-haul trips aboard the 747 as there was no other wide-body planes that could rival the superjet. Photo: Cathay Pacific

Ground staff in Japan wave their goodbyes as the last Cathay 747 passenger flight readies for takeoff. Photo: Cathay Pacific

EJ Insight writer

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