Closure of Kai Tak Airport and the transfer to Chek Lap Kok

The closure of Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport in 1998 and the overnight switch to the new airport at Chek Lap Kok always intrigued me – how did they manage such a massive move?

Kai Tak airport terminal

From the Wikipedia page on Kai Tak:

The new airport officially opened on 6 July 1998. All essential airport supplies and vehicles that were left in the old airport for operation (some of the non-essential ones had already been transported to the new airport) were transported to Chek Lap Kok in one early morning with a single massive move.

On 6 July 1998 at 01:28, after the last aircraft departed for Chek Lap Kok, Kai Tak was finally retired as an airport. The final flights were:

  • The last arrival: Dragonair KA841 from Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (Airbus A320) landed runway 13 at 23:38.
  • The last scheduled commercial flight: Cathay Pacific CX251 to London Heathrow Airport (Boeing 747-400) took off from runway 13 at 00:00.
  • The last departure: Cathay Pacific CX3340 ferry flight to the new Hong Kong International Airport (Airbus A340-300) took off from runway 13 at 01:05.

A small ceremony celebrating the end of the airport was held inside the control tower after the last flight took off. Richard Siegel, then director of civil aviation of Hong Kong, gave a brief speech, ending with the words “Goodbye Kai Tak, and thank you”, before dimming the lights briefly and then turning them off.

After the last plane, a Cathay Pacific A340-300, took off from Kai Tak International Airport to new Hong Kong International Airport at 01:28 HKT, Kai Tak was closed, transferring its ICAO and IATA airport codes to the replacement airport at Chek Lap Kok.

Finding photos of the last day at Kai Tak was a difficult task, but I came across this footage from the Associated Press archives.

It features:

Kai Tak:

  • Airport staff dancing and cheering;
  • Worker: “Bye Bye Kai Tak”;
  • Convoy of lorries leaving airport with equipment;
  • Exterior airport;
  • Cathay Pacific plane taking off – last flight to leave airport;
  • Dragonair plane landing – last flight to arrive;
  • Convoy of lorries en route to Chek Lap Kok airport;

Chek Lap Kok

  • Equipment being unloaded at new terminal;
  • Cleaners washing sidewalk;
  • Painters putting final touches to exterior;
  • Interior of new terminal as final preparations made for Monday’s opening;

Kai Tak

Airport official: “The last passenger has arrived the last flight has departed, the runway is quiet – it is now time to turn the lights out that have safely guided thousand of planes…Goodbye Kai Tak and thank-you”; clapping;

I also found this set of photos published by the South China Morning Post that look back at the transfer from new to old.

Photo by K. Y. Cheng / South China Morning Post

After closure, the Kai Tak terminal and airport control tower lay idle – on my visit to Hong Kong in March 2004 they were still there.

Kai Tak airport control tower

Demolition soon followed, but today large parts of the site still lay idle, almost 20 years since closure.

2010 view of the approach to runway 13 at Kai Tak

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