Saturday, 9 August 2008

Flying into the dragon's mouth - Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong

I once heard somebody say that to land at Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong, is like flying into the mouth of a giant dragon. With mountains and skyscrapers so close to it, necessitating a very steep descent, this is exactly what it feels like.

Kai Tak Airport, until 1998, was Hong Kong International Airport, and I landed there twice, both times being amazing experiences. As you make the sharp descent, the plane weaves around tall buildings, and you can almost see into people’s apartments. The plane seems to strain as it eases its way around the buildings, heading for the airport’s only runway, which stretches out into the South China Sea. As the plane touches down, you get that mild rush of adrenalin that landing always gives, and then you look out of the window and see traditional Chinese junks in Hong Kong Harbor, giving you no doubt about where you are. But then as the plane finally grinds to a halt after landing, and wheels round to taxi, you hear a clear and unanimous gasp from the passengers, as they look out, and realise that they are at the very end of the runway, and that they are looking out to sea, a sea which seems very close.

Now the international flights that come into Hong Kong land at the new Hong Kong International Airport on the island Chek Lap Kok, which is no doubt easier for pilots and air traffic controllers, but will probably never quite match the excitement of landing at Kai Tak.

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