One of the most demanding places to land in the past was Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport. Arriving on runway 13 demanded that aircraft fly until they sighted a checkerboard painted on a hill, then pilots took manual control, performing a right hand turn at low altitude to reach the runway.

Buildings up to six stories high were in the area, and flights were so low that passengers could clearly see televisions on the apartments as they passed by. Since the closure of the airport in 1998, the checkerboard has been left to dereliction until now.

The Approach From The Cockpit

Here’s a video showing the approach from the cockpit shot in 1998. You can see the checkerboard on the hill pretty clearly at around 3 minutes and 15 seconds in.

The landings were certainly sporty, though I imagine Cathay Pacific pilots had fewer issues than most. After all, Hong Kong is their home base!

The Restored Checkerboard

After the closure of the airport, the checkerboard was no longer needed and it was left to decay. The years of weather took its toll until it was a shadow of its former self.

Happily, the powers that be decided to restore this Hong Kong landmark, which will be good news to aviation people and citizens of Hong Kong.

While the planes have all moved to the new Hong Kong Airport, this will remain as a reminder of things past. I’m sure aviation people and local citizens will appreciate that.

Overall Thoughts

I never got to visit Hong Kong before the new airport opened, so the experience of the checkerboard approach is something I’ll never have. Plane spotters certainly loved it, and there are many action shots and videos from Hong Kong Kai Tak landings to view.

The new airport is far safer and has a much higher capacity, so things move on. I’m sure the local residents in the area also appreciate not having flights landing a couple of hundred feet over their heads all day too!

Did you ever get to fly into Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong? What was it like? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Samuel Lo on
2018 image via Asiajottings.
Restored checkerboard via Facebook.