Kai Tak airport – 1925 to 1945, a brief history

Hugh Farmer: Kai Tak was named after two businessmen, Sir Kai Ho Kai and his son-in-law Mr. Au Tak, who were involved in a company formed to reclaim land in Kowloon Bay in 1912 for a residential housing scheme. However the scheme failed and the land was left vacant.

Sir Kai died over ten years before the airfield welcomed its first flying machine.

Sir Kai Ho Kai 1859-1914

Sir Kai Ho Kai

Au Tak

Au Tak 1840-1920

The suitability of using this land as an airfield was recognized and the first recorded flight from Kai Tak took place on Lunar New Year’s Day in 1925. Kai Tak was then a simple grass-strip airfield which served the British RAF and enthusiasts from the Hong Kong Aviation Club.

In 1928, a concrete slipway was built for seaplanes using Kowloon Bay.

In 1930, the first aerodrome superintendent was appointed with the aviation activities at Kai Tak coming under the administration of the Harbour Department..

In 1935, the first control tower and a hangar were built. The first commercial passengers flight ‘Dorado’ landed on 24 March 1936 from Penang operated by the Imperial Airways.

The first scheduled air service arrived at Kai Tak on 24 March 1936

‘Dorado’ at Kai Tak, 24 March 1936

In the following years, Pan American World Airways began its Clipper flying boat service between Hong Kong and San Francisco. Other air services followed with Air France flights from Indochina, China National Aviation Corporation from Guangzhou and Shanghai and Eurasia Aviation Corporation operating between Hong Kong and Beijing.

Kai tak pre war flying boats

Kai Tak airport, pre-war, showing the main hangar and a flying boat tied up at the Pan Am pontoon

The first tarmac runway, running east-west, was 457 metres long amd completed in 1939.

During the Second World War the Japanese expanded Kai Tak.  The work was done using many of the Allied POW’s as labourers. When the work was complete, there were two concrete runways, one crossing the other. The construction destroyed the historic wall of the Kowloon Walled Cty as well as the 45m tall Sung Wong Toi – a memorial for the last Song dynasty emperor.

IDJ adds: “there were no concrete or paved runways at Kai Tak before the Japanese  and POWs built them. I have 1940-41 official drawings and aerial photograph of the airport’s layout with no paved runways.”

The airport was severely damaged by bombing during WW2.

This article was first posted on 18th April 2014.


Related Indhhk articles

  1. World War Two – Kai Tak airport, BAAG maps and sketches
  2. Ping Shan airfield – further information
  3. Ping Shan airport – an extract from Paul Tsui’s unpublished memoire
  4. Sha Tin Airfield – First Powered flight in Hong Kong 1911
  5. Flying boats before Kai Tak runway opened – SCMP article
  6. To Kwa Wan “Concrete Factory” during WW2 – Japanese expansion of Kai Tak airport
  7. Pearl Harbour Day in Hong Kong – Japanese attack on Kai Tak airport, December 1941


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