Breaking new ground on home turf

A Cathay Pacific Cargo freighter makes the first commercial touchdown on Hong Kong’s third runway

Cathay Pacific Cargo touched down on new territory this month – at its home hub in Hong Kong. A Boeing 747-400ERF operating CX3251 from Shanghai Pudong was the first commercial flight to land on the new North Runway at Hong Kong International Airport on the morning of Friday 8 July, 2022 (watch video here).

The opening of the new runway for operational use is another milestone in the extension of the airport and its role as an aviation gateway to the Greater Bay Area of the southern Chinese Mainland. The new North Runway, built on 650 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea, will enable Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) to operate with three runways and increase the number of flights that can be operated in future.

Speaking after the touchdown, Cathay Pacific Chief Executive Officer Augustus Tang said: ‘Hong Kong has a critical role to play as an aviation hub in the country’s development as outlined in the 14th Five-Year Plan. The growth potential afforded by the commencement of the Three Runway System at HKIA, together with the opportunities presented by the Greater Bay Area, will ensure that Cathay Pacific and our home hub will remain competitive for many years to come.’

An infographic map showing the progress of the third runway project at Hong Kong International Airport

Three from 2024

The existing North, and now ‘Central’, Runway will be closed for a two-year refurbishment while the new airfield infrastructure is constructed, with the aim of reopening in 2024 as a fully-functional three runway system. The construction of extended and new passenger buildings is currently underway. This expansion is designed to handle an additional 30 million passengers a year and, crucially, more flights.

Prior to 2019 there were only a few spare slots available, with the airport pretty much maxed out at around 1,100 flight movements a day, and about 68 flights an hour at peak times. From 2024, the fully operational three-runway system will be able to increase this. ‘Potentially, it could add 20 to 30 more flights an hour,’ says Cathay Pacific’s General Manager Operations Mark Hoey.

The good news for cargo customers is that arrangements with local air traffic control will aim to optimise the South Runway for freighters, as the Cargo Apron, which houses the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal, is relatively further away from the new North Runway. Freighters traversing the airfield from the North Runway after 2024 will have to cross the active Central Runway. For now, and during the refurbishment, there is a designated crossing point for aircraft and taxi times will take around five minutes longer.

Another 747 landmark

Captain Viggo Chan had the honour of landing CX3251 on the new North Runway, adding a memorable flight to his logbook. ‘It all went quite smoothly,’ he says. ‘We had last-minute air traffic control arrangements that stopped us from making our planned 0815 touchdown, but we landed at 0827, just after a Hong Kong Government Flying Service aircraft made the first official landing.’

It was another landmark day for Cathay Pacific and the Queen of the Skies. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Cathay Pacific Cargo introducing its first 747 freighter. The fleet of 20 freighters, including 14 of the modern and more fuel-efficient 747-8Fs, has performed sterling work keeping Hong Kong connected to the world over the past couple of years.

‘Our freighter fleet has played a pivotal role in keeping essential supplies, notably vaccines and testing kits, moving between Hong Kong and the rest of the world throughout the pandemic,’ says Director Cargo Tom Owen. ‘We are therefore delighted that one of our 747 freighters was first to operate a commercial flight using the new Third Runway.’

Cathay’s 747 Hong Kong history-makers

1998: CX251, a 747 bound for London Heathrow, becomes the final commercial departure from Hong Kong’s former international airport, Kai Tak, in the early hours of 6 July.

1998: Just a few hours later at 6am, CX889, a 747 from New York is the first commercial flight to land at the new Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) at Chek Lap Kok, which is also the first non-stop flight from US east coast to Hong Kong.

2022: On 8 July, Cathay Pacific Cargo’s CX3251 from Shanghai Pudong becomes the first commercial flight to land on HKIA’s new North Runway.