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Sunday, July 5, 1998 Published at 22:50 GMT 23:50 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Hong Kong's flying start

Equipment had to be transported through the centre of Kowloon

The BBC's Jill McGivering on the closure of Kai Tak: 'Landing here was unforgettable'
The first commercial plane has landed at Hong Kong's brand new £12bn Chep Lak Kok international airport which has opened in place of the old airport some 18 miles away.

The airport opened after a massive seven hour operation to transfer equipment from the old airport.

The first commercial plane, Cathay Pacific flight CX889 from New York, touched down on Monday at around 0620 local time (2220 gmt).

On Sunday, thousands of people had watched the last incoming planes as they made their customary dramatic descent to the old Kai Tak airport, swooping over rooftops to land on a runway jutting into Hong Kong harbour.

Last flight

[ image: The first plane arrives at Chek Lap Kok]
The first plane arrives at Chek Lap Kok
Passengers on a Cathay Pacific flight, bound for London, were the last to take off from Kai Tak's runway, which pokes out into Kowloon Bay.

The plane left at midnight local time (1600G) and was piloted by Captain Kim Sharman, a 21-year veteran who was retiring after the flight.

Hong Kong-based Dragon Air's Flight 841 from Chongqing, China, was the last to land some 15 minutes earlier.

[ image:  ]
A massive operation using 1,000 vehicles and fleets of barges and aircraft took place to move a huge amount of heavy equipment to the new site at Chek Lap Kok by road, rail and sea.

The authorities had a window of just seven hours to transfer the loads. Although many pieces of equipment were moved over gradually in recent months, essential items could not be taken until Kai Tak had seen its last landings and take-offs.

Large sections of Hong Kong were closed to normal traffic.

Military manoeuvres

[ image: The airport terminal has been designed by Norman Foster]
The airport terminal has been designed by Norman Foster
The relocation has been described in the local press as akin to a major military operation.

Retired British Army soldiers with logistics expertise have been recruited to oversee the loading of tonnes of airport equipment onto lorries and barges.

Chek Lap Kok was officially opened by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who flew in on Thursday, and used by US President Bill Clinton last week on the last leg of his tour of China.

The BBC Hong Kong correspondent says a replacement for Kai Tak was much needed. The old airport reached capacity some time ago, with no room for expansion.

Peter Lee of Hong Kong's civil aviation department: "Pilots will miss Kai Tak"
The new airport's eight-storey terminal, designed by British architect Norman Foster, is one of the largest enclosed spaces in the world. Under a giant metal roof is six million square feet (557,413 square metres) of glass-walled space.

A driverless shuttle train carries passengers under the central concourse and a computerised system switches off lights and power in areas of the terminal when they are not being used.

£12bn construction

The new airport cost £4bn to build - another £8bn was needed to construct a giant bridge connecting it to the rest of Hong Kong.

Cathay Pacific pilot George Benmenous: "It appears your wingtips are going through apartments."
It is expected to generate £420m in revenue in its first year of operating and the airport authorities are confident of repaying the £1bn development debt by 2001.

But the figures may have to be recalculated in the wake of Asia's financial crisis.

Hong Kong has been thrown into recession by events in South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan and tourist arrivals are down by a quarter.

Although our correspondent says Kai Tak's dramatic landing will be sadly missed by aviation enthusiasts, the 300,000 who live directly under what was its flightpath will be happy.

Another group celebrating is the International Federation of Airline Pilots, who recently rated Kai Tak as "critically deficient" and said pilots had numerous near-miss anecdotes.

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