The History of Cathay Pacific Airways

Founded on September 24, 1946, Cathay Pacific itself had its inauspicious and unexpected beginnings in the military, when Roy Farrell, an American, and Sydney de Kantzow, an Australian, forged a friendship during the Second World War when they flew Douglas C-47 Skytrains over the Himalayan “hump” from Calcutta to Kunming for the China National Aviation Company.

Acquiring a war surplus DC-3 in 1945, registered VR-HDB and named “Betsy,” Farrell, along with de Kantzow, inaugurated passenger service from Shanghai until political pressure forced the relocation of its operations to Kai Tak Airfield the following May. Equipped with a second DC-3, VR-HDA “Nikki,” the fledgling airline, adopting the Cathay Pacific designation, commenced charter flights to Southeast Asia. Two years later, it had a scheduled, five-destination route system, encompassing Bangkok, Manila, Saigon, Shanghai, and Singapore, over which it carried 3,000 passengers in five additional DC-3s and two Consolidated PBY Catalinas.

One of two local carriers with rival Hong Kong Airways, it was government-awarded the less lucrative southern routes, while Hong Kong itself was granted the northern ones to China and Japan.

Increasing demand nevertheless necessitated larger, more modern equipment, including the quad-engine, 56-passenger DC-4 Skymaster in 1949, the pressurized, 58-passenger DC-6 in 1954, and the upgraded DC-6B in 1958.

Absorbing competitor Hong Kong Airways the following year, it acquired its first turbine aircraft, in the form of the dual-class, 75-passenger Lockheed L-188A Electra, and was able to spread its wings to Sydney, Australia, and Tokyo, Japan, for the first time with them. Operating one DC-3, one DC-4, one DC-6, one DC-6B, and the two Electras, it carried 69,000 passengers that year.

The pure-jet era dawned in 1962, when it acquired the first of nine, 104-passenger Convair CV-880s, eventually replacing the L-188As with them, Passenger totals continued to climb-from 170,000 in 1963 to 324,000 in 1967.

Larger, pure-jet aircraft materialized as the 154-passenger Boeing 707-320B in 1970 and the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, its first widebody type, five years later. With 12 of the former and three of the latter, it was able to inaugurate long-range intercontinental routes beyond Asia and Australia to Bahrain and Dubai in 1976.

Delivery of the first 747-200B enabled it to launch its first Hong Kong-London service on July 16, 1980, the type that became instrumental in its ability to pioneer ultra-long range routes, including those to Vancouver in Canada, Los Angeles in the US, and Frankfurt and Paris in Europe. Flights to Rome, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Denpasar, Auckland, and Nagoya followed.

In 1985, it took delivery of its first stretched upper deck 747-300 and its first next generation 747-400 four years later, enabling it to operate nonstop, year-round service to Europe and the US without payload restrictions for the first time.

Operating 735 weekly flights with 18 281-passenger L-1011-1s/-100s, eight 408-passenger 747-200Bs, three 747-200Fs, six 422-passenger 747-300s, and ten 361-passenger 747-400s in 1990, all of which were Rolls Royce powered, it served 38 destinations in 26 countries, carrying 7.7 million passengers with an average 75.9-percent load factor.

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