It was 6:30 am on July 6, 1998, when a commercial airliner from New
York made the first landing at the newly completed Hong Kong
Only five hours before the inaugural flight landed at the new
facility－Chek Lap Kok Airport－the final flight took off from Hong Kong's
aging Kai Tak Airport. The runway lights at Kai Tak were switched off
for the last time at 1:20 am that day.
The opening of the new airport built on reclaimed land on the island
of Chek Lap Kok was a landmark event, contributing to Hong Kong's status
in international aviation.
"That was the beginning of our steep climb, to rise and shine as one
of the world's major aviation hubs," Hong Kong Special Administrative
Region Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on the airport's
The statutory body overseeing the airport's operations, the Airport
Authority Hong Kong, has noted the importance of the facility's
location. Half the world's population lives within five hours' flying
time of Chek Lap Kok.
The authority said the airport handled about 73 million passengers
and more than 5 million metric tons of cargo in 2017, making it the
world's eighth-busiest passenger airport, and the world's busiest for
The airport was a long-awaited replacement for Kai Tak, considered by
pilots as one of the most challenging airports in the world.
Pilots had to negotiate steep hills near Kai Tak, often buffeted by
challenging crosswinds. The old airport was situated in heavily
populated Kowloon City, with a single runway built on reclaimed land
extending out to sea.
Kai Tak started to operate in 1930, becoming a key factor in Hong
Kong's rise to prominence among international air destinations. By the
1960s, traffic had steadily increased, as Western airlines began to
operate more flights to the Far East.
In 1993, Kai Tak handled 24.5 million passengers, surpassing its
original design capacity. Three years later, it became the world's
busiest cargo airport, handling 1.56 million tons, and the third-busiest
international passenger airport, handling 29.5 million passengers.
By 1993, moves to replace overstretched Kai Tak were moving ahead.
The government had announced its plan to build a new and larger airport
in 1989. The new facility was destined for Chek Lap Kok, an island off
Lantau Island, in the western part of Hong Kong.
Construction began in 1991. The new airport was to be served by nine
additional facilities, including a high-speed rail system, a third
cross-harbor tunnel linking Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, and the new
town of Tung Chung.