Cathay ends Boeing 747 passenger services

Back to Forum

This topic contains 17 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  MartynSinclair 7 Oct 2016
at 15:44

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 18 total)

  • Charles-P

    From Australian Aviation

    Tokyo Haneda is the latest airport to play host to an increasingly familiar scene in recent times – saying goodbye to the Boeing 747.

    On Saturday, it was Cathay Pacific’s turn to bid farewell to the iconic aircraft, with CX543 from the close-in Tokyo airport to Hong Kong the oneworld alliance member’s last revenue passenger flight with the 747-400.

    Staff lined up alongside B-HUJ as it prepared for departure, marking the end of an era that began on August 4 1979 when Cathay’s first 747, 747-200 VR-HKG, took to the skies for the first time in passenger service.

    There is an Australian connection to that milestone, with Cathay’s first destinations with the 747 from its Hong Kong hub being Sydney, via Melbourne.

    Some 37 years later, the aircraft that accelerated Cathay’s transformation into one of the world’s premier network carriers has been retired in favour of big twins such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350.

    Cathay general manager for operations and former 747 chief pilot Mark Hoey, an Australian, says the impact of the 747 on the city of Hong Kong was immense.

    “The 747 fundamentally changed the way people were able to travel,” Hoey said in a statement.

    “Being able to carry more people for far greater distances than before meant the 747 effectively shrunk the planet. The aircraft had a vital effect on the development of Hong Kong as an international aviation hub – and indeed, Hong Kong’s economic and tourism prospects. As a result, it helped make Hong Kong become a world city.”

    Hoey, who flew three variants of the 747 – the -200, -300 and -400 – said it was a great aircraft to fly and generated great excitement for pilots given the long-haul routes it opened up.

    “For such a large aircraft, the 747 is amazingly manoeuvrable,” Hoey said.

    “It’s also very reliable and robust – which was very helpful during typhoon season in the old days of Kai Tak. It could do things that other aircraft couldn’t. It really is an outstanding piece of design and engineering.”

    “The launch of new long-haul routes, thanks to the 747, was exciting, and Cathay made a name for itself by operating some of the longest flights of the era, like Gatwick [London] to Hong Kong nonstop for the first time by any airline, and later to the east coast of the United States.”

    While 747 passenger services have ended, Cathay’s 20 Boeing 747 freighters (comprising one 747-400BCF, six 747-400ERFs and 13 747-8Fs) will continue to support global commerce by ferrying goods around the world for years to come.

    Despite all of the 747’s ground-breaking achievements, not just for Cathay but airlines around the world, advances in aircraft and engine technology mean newer twin-engine jets can fly just as far and carry just as many passengers and cargo using less fuel.

    In recent years, Singapore Airlines (April 2012), Air New Zealand (September 2014) and Air France (January 2016) are just three examples of carriers that have sent their 747 passenger variants into retirement.

    And there are more to come, with Saudia set to end 747 passenger services before the end of 2016, while United has said previously it planned to accelerate the retirement of its 747s.

    Closer to home, Qantas is expected to remain operating 747s for the foreseeable future. The Flying Kangaroo has 11 747s, a combination of six -400ERs and five -400s.

    Although the Australian flag carrier has ordered new-generation 787s as a partial replacement for the “Queen of the Skies”, the 747s are still important for long over-water services to Johannesburg and Santiago.

    A research note from think tank CAPA – Centre for Aviation said the global fleet of in-service passenger/combi 747-400s was at 204 frames following the Cathay retirements.

    Of those 65 per cent were held by six carriers – British Airways (38), United (21), KLM (19), Lufthansa (13), Qantas (11) and Thai Airways (10).

    Other 747-400 operators included Delta (nine), China Airlines (8) and Korean Air and Virgin Atlantic, both with eight. Meanwhile, Lufthansa, Korean Air and Air China also fly the Boeing’s newest passenger variant of the 747, the 747-8I

    “Many operators can be presumed to shed their 747-400 fleets by 2020,” CAPA said in a research note dated October 1.

    “It looks likely that the 747-400 passenger fleet will dip below 200 units by the end of 2016 or early 2017. At the same time the number of regular non-charter 747-400s will decrease to less than 150 as United and Delta complete retirement.

    “The decrease is occurring in spite of low fuel prices. The drastic decline of fuel costs in recent times has prompted some airlines to retain 747s for longer, and in larger numbers, than previously planned; but others – like United – are accelerating retirement. Although no drastic increase in fuel price is forecast, any significant would accelerate 747 retirements.

    “The 747-400 looks likely to fly into 2020, with the -8i even longer. Yet its prominence and reign as Queen of the Skies are long over.”


    Tea Clippers were far more beautiful, IMHO, but are also obsolete.

    Best of breed in one era, beer can in another. That’s life.


    Great post Charles…….
    Without doubt my favourite aircraft ever and actually I’d nominate it as mankind’s greatest, most influential creation.

    Vivid childhood memory, of being in my PJ’s, in the back of the Chevrolet and waiting for AC’s 747 to arrive from YYZ..

    My first flight was on a CP jumbo (YVR-HNL) and can remember the film on the main screen was Singing in the Rain.

    Many, many CP flights after that.
    And also flown KLM, BA, CX , JL, QF, Wardair and Garuda. And I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two others.

    Quite sad that the 800 variant hasn’t proven to be a success


    ‘canucklad’ – There is just something about a 747, as much as I like the A380 it just doesn’t have the glamour of a jumbo, especially a British Airways 747 which to me just shouts class and restrained British elegance (I have no way to explain this). Of course progress means that ultimately what was once the very latest is tomorrows ‘classic’.


    The sound of the 747’s four engines pushing you down the run way gets me every time. They feel so real in comparison to 787,350, 380’s.


    I too liked the 747.

    My best experience is probably the Thai birds. Before seat back tv was the rage they really were a top class airline and 747 product. The problem was Thai did not keep up with technology.

    My worse experience an Egyptair frame back in the nineties that shook the pax half to death on their Monday Luxor to Heathrow flight. I think the thing was put back together by an ex meccano freak, so much stuff was loose and rattling the entertainment onboard was guessing which bit would fall off first.

    Afraid I don’t agree with Canucklad though with his comment about it being one of mankinds greatest and influential creations. Just in Aviation I would say Concorde for greatest and the 737 as most influential. That is not to in any way denigrate the huge impact the 747 has had on shrinking the world.


    Nice post Charles P, I also have to agree with Window-seat, there is always something about the sound of those engines. When driving towards Heathrow on the M25 the BA 747’s always look to me like they are just hanging in the air!

    I’m glad I was luck to have had the unexpected opportunity to travel on CX 747. Just before Christmas what would normally have been a 777, for my flight from HKG to MNL was the 747, at first miffed that I hadn’t noticed it was a 747 on check in on line to bag an upstairs seat, but though actually it did say 777. Nice surprise at the gate to be upgraded to F!


    I never got to fly on a CX 747, but did on SQ shortly before they were retired.

    And on a still evening like today I can hear the cargo freighters taking off in the opposite direction, even though I live on the other side of town!

    I remember my first 747 experience on KLM to Karachi of all places, when you could still smoke in the back few rows. Talk about total culture shock when I arrived. I think that deserves another thread…


    Gutted, not only is a friend of mine at CX on the habour/kai tak flypast flight but I am sat in HKG lounge now leaving a day earlier. would have loved to have seen it doing the flypast down victoria harbour


    Great post Charles…….
    Without doubt my favourite aircraft ever and actually I’d nominate it as mankind’s greatest, most influential creation.


    It may be your favourite, but as regards your nomination I have to take issue.

    So you are suggesting that the 747 was greater and more influential than the compass, the nail, the printing press, steam power, the internal combustion engine, the light bulb, the telephone, the jet engine itself, the computer, the internet, television…???

    PS More than half of those were invented by Brits. Unlike the 747, which was designed as a freighter. And it’s majestic, but it’s ugly.


    Evening Ian
    I deliberately used the word creation rather than invention, and as someone who has Scottish blood flowing through me, I ‘m very aware of how this little country punched above its weight when it comes to inventions that the changed the world.

    Anyway, enjoy the fly past of my favourite aircraft, my blue eyes are going cx green with envy.


    I will always remember my first 747 flight into Kai Tak CX from LHR. Sitting in Business Upper Deck looking out as we gracefully manourverd between the high rises of Kowloon with a sharp left turn landing on what looked to be a very narrow strip on runway into Victoria Habour. I have been privilaged to make this trip many times. However, HKI may have much more to offer the international traveller it does not have the buzz of the landing and taking off from Kai Tak.


    I was fortunate to recently ‘fly’ a 747 flight simulator which still had the flight model of Kai Tak loaded. If it was an eye opener as a passenger it was nothing compared to being on the flight deck. I did the famous Runway 13 approach which requires a 47 degree right turn to line up with the runway and complete the final leg, at the point of this turn the aircraft was less that two nautical miles from touchdown and at about 1,000ft.


    Have done that on a sim too Charles P. I had flown to HKG in I think 1995 on a Cathay 747 (the tail livery then was horizontal green and white stripes), and the day after returning to UK had a session booked with Hughes Aviation near Gatwick. I managed to land in the water to the right of the strip, and remember that my mouth was bone dry, my heart was racing, and I was perspiring like crazy!!

    My last flight on a Cathay 747 was YVR to JFK in 2000.


    My early flying days to Asia involved numerous landings at Kai Tak with Cathay Pacific’s B707s and with Thai International’s DC-8s. Later flights were with the B747s of BA or Cathay Pacific.

    When landing from the sea, it was nothing special.

    But as others have noted the landing approach over Kowloon was exceptional. As the plane came in to land you descended over and amongst the Kowloon tenements. In fact you were so close that if you looked carefully you even see the flickering of TVs inside the appartments.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 18 total)
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below