Kai Tak International Airport: Difficult place to land?

Looking at some of the links in the Low flying jets. How is this not dangerous? thread, I ended up spending hours looking at all the pics at Airliners.net. (Cool site!) There seemed to be quite a few pics of aircraft having difficulties at Kai Tak International Airport in Hong Kong. A few examples of what I’m talking about:
Example 1
Example 2
Example 3
Example 4
Example 5

So, what’s the deal with this place? Is this airport more likely than others to have problems, or is it just photographed more often here than at other airports? Any dopers ever fly in or out of this airport? Is it a difficult place to land?

Well, as far as i know Kai Tak is no longer in use. It was closed in 1998, replaced by the brand new Chek Lap Kok airport.

I’m no aviation expert, but i do believe that Kai Tak was considered a very difficult airport to fly into. Kowloon is surrounded by mountainous country, and incoming aircraft have to get over or through these hills and land very quickly thereafter.

I flew into Kai Tak a couple of times, and on both occasions the approach required a pretty steep turn at what seemed to me to be very low altitude. I remember being able to look into the apartments at the top of high-rise apartment buildings. I’m not someone who is afraid of flying, but flying into Kai Tak for the first time was pretty unnerving.

Sadly, Kai Tak is no more. I never got a chance to fly there which is a source of bitterness for me. Flights into Hong Kong now land at Chek Lap Kok on Lantau Island. It’s a very nice facility, but lacking in excitement.

I flew into Kai Tak in 1993. I was sitting in the middle berth of seats in a 747, and I could clearly see Marlboro signs on the sides of buildings flashing by out the windows before we landed.

One can kind of imagine Kowloon (the mainland part of Hong Kong) as a small peninsula surrounded by mountains enclosing it in kind of a cup like shape. Kai Tak runway 13 stuck straight out into the bay. The other end was across the road from a busy commercial district with low-rise buildings.

From spending many hours watching planes land there, planes would line up on a northeast course and descend towards a hill with a checkerboard on it, roughly aligned with the end of the runway. Before reaching the hill, they would make around a 45 degree turn to the right to bring them around to the 13 runway. This was executed within a few minutes of landing, so the planes were very low. Add this to the fact that the buildings were often taller than the approach path. Add this to the fact that the runway was surrounded by water.

I would say that Kai Tak was easily the most difficult approach in regular commerical aviation. I’m sure pilots will be around shortly to correct or confirm…

The wikipedia article seems to back me up, mostly.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kai_Tak_International_Airport

I probably landed in Kai Tak a few hundred times. It was always cool, especially when landing from the Kowloon city side. The buildings are right there, and the pilot had to always do a last minute correction to line up with the runway because of buildings in what had previously been the flight path.

I should add that, on both occasions, i was flying Cathay Pacific.

If you’re going to fly into such a difficult airport, then i guess that it’s good to have pilots who fly there on a regular basis and who are used to the conditions.

I flew into Kai Tak twice (and someone even has a picture of us doing it!).

The airport was one of a few “certification” airports for us in the USAF. These are airports with unusual/difficult approach and/or departure requirements. Some others were Tegucigalpa, Honduras (mountainous terrain), La Paz, Bolivia (mountains and an airfield elevation of over 13,000 ft), Hong Kong (the old Kai Tak), Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and a few others.

Flying the “Hong Kong curve” was very challenging, but the times I went in there the winds were fairly light so it wasn’t too bad. With a strong crosswind things can get ugly quickly as planes over- or under-shoot the runway and make abrupt corrections to not only line up on the runway but also get some decent crosswind controls in.

Kai Tak is not missed by pilots - at least no one that I know misses it!

A friend of mine who flew into Kai Tek a few times likes to joke that the first thing the ground crew would do when the plane got to the gate, was to get all the laundry off the wings :stuck_out_tongue:

I believe the pilots did indeed call it “turning right at Mrs Chan’s washing”. I never did the tight-arsed banking approach over Kowloon, but I came in over the water a couple of times, and I loved the way we came cruising in high over the South China Sea at night, then suddenly we were amongst lights (HK Island mountains) then high again over the harbour, and then the Blade Runner shit started happening with the neon billboards either side as we landed.

I do miss that airport, then again I wasn’t in the hot seat. As a passenger, it was fun.