On 1 May 1983, Cathay Pacific flight CX800 took off from Hong Kong, bound for Vancouver International Airport with the aircraft registered as VR-HIE. This marked the airline’s first entrance into the transpacific market – a dream-come-true moment for founders Roy and Sydney naming the airline Cathay Pacific – in what would become one of its biggest trunk routes.
With two non-stop flights a week on the Boeing 747-200 back then, CX800 enabled travellers to fly non-stop between Hong Kong and Vancouver for the first time.
Alan Fung, then working in the Ramp Department at Hong Kong, worked on that very first flight to Vancouver. He’d joined Cathay Pacific the previous year as a Loading Officer. For the inaugural Vancouver flight, Fung was responsible for loading cargo and baggage on to the aircraft. ‘It has been a career of firsts,’ he says.
The opening of the route was significant for the airline. It opened up the Americas, establishing a strong foothold for both the passenger and cargo business.
In 1986, Cathay Pacific added a San Francisco tag to its Vancouver service. Further expansion in the region continued over the years, including Hong Kong to Los Angeles in 1990 and Toronto in 1994. Cathay introduced its legendary New York-Vancouver-Hong Kong (JFK-YVR-HKG) flight in 1996, the fifth-freedom flight loved by aviation enthusiasts and passengers alike – which gave travellers the opportunity to fly between New York and Vancouver on the world-class global carrier.
The JFK-YVR-HKG flight also saw Fung rejoin Cathay after a brief stint away from the airline. Since the inaugural Vancouver flight, he’d migrated to Vancouver and stayed in touch with the local team. Hearing the news of the opening of New York, the then-airport manager asked him to take on the night flight loading.
After a week of training with an old colleague from Hong Kong, Fung was ready to take to the tarmac. He coordinated the weight, balance and load planning, preparing CX889 for the final leg of its journey from Vancouver to Hong Kong. Though he’d worked the ramp before, there were still some unknowns. ‘All the ramp stuff was new to me in Vancouver,’ he says. ‘I had to speak English when I dealt with anyone on the ramp side,’ he says – a change from his past life at Kai Tak. Despite some trepidation, it all went off without a hitch. ‘Everything was so good on the first flight. Everything was smooth.’
At this point there were two Cathay Pacific flights each day, operating seven days a week – one in the morning and one late at night. Fung was responsible for the late-night load, the plane departing sometime between midnight and 2.05am. His dedication to the role was evident, and after five years of working part-time on the night shift, he was hired as a full-time Cargo Officer in 2001.
Since then, Fung has been there for many of Cathay Cargo’s firsts. In 2005, he was seconded to Toronto to help set up the freighter port ahead of Cathay Pacific’s first landing. In 2014, he was seconded to Mexico City to monitor the first freighter landing, and helped set up the freighter port in Calgary in 2015. And when Cathay purchased its Boeing 747-8F and 747-400ERF freighters, he was in Seattle to prepare some of the aircraft before they flew to Hong Kong on their maiden flights.
Now in his sixties, Fung still works as a Cargo Services Lead Agent in Vancouver, coordinating cargo on Cathay Pacific’s eight weekly non-stop flights (now on the Boeing 777). The cargo, he says, is mostly seafood heading to Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland. And ‘tonnes and tonnes’ of cherries, flown to Hong Kong between mid-June and the first week of August. There’s also the occasional piece of outsized oil field equipment heading to Australia.
Since that first flight 40 years ago, Cathay’s Americas routes have helped shaped the airline into one of the world’s leading combination cargo carriers. Cathay Cargo now operates in 16 cities across three North American countries, shipping an average of 160 million kilos of freight annually.
And we have people like Alan Fung to thank for getting it there, every time.
Snapshot of Cathay Pacific in 1983
Fleet: 17 (9 L1011 Lockheed Tristars; 8 Boeing 747-200s; 1 Boeing 747-200F freighter)
Routes flown: 29
Cargo and mail carried: 152,125 tonnes