Cathay Pacific Airways is preparing to bid farewell to its iconic Boeing 747, which will be retired from the passenger fleet after it performs its final operation, a return journey from Hong Kong to Haneda Airport in Tokyo on 30 September and 1 October.
The 747 first joined the Cathay Pacific fleet in 1979. The carrier received a total of 59 747s over the next 35 years, including 14 747-8F freighters delivered from 2011 onwards, which will remain in service. Over that period, Cathay Pacific underwent a transformation from a primarily regional operator to a global airline.
The 747 enabled Cathay Pacific to rapidly expand its network to European and North American destinations throughout the 1980s and 1990s, thereby increasing Hong Kong’s connectivity to the wider world.
During its time as Cathay Pacific’s sole long-haul aircraft type, up until the mid-1990s which saw the arrival of the Airbus A340, the 747 helped the airline quadruple its annual passenger figures – from 2.5 million carried in 1979 to 10.4 million in 1995. Visitor numbers to Hong Kong over the same period grew almost identically – from 2.2 million in 1979 to 10.2 million in 1995.
In the 15 years following the 747’s introduction, Cathay Pacific trebled the size of its workforce – from approximately 5,000 to nearly 15,000, making the airline one of Hong Kong’s largest employers.