Last Stand at Kai Tak
When the old order changed in Hong Kong, it made way for a new set of problems for a historic aero club.
- By Roger A. Mola
- Air & Space magazine, September 2003
Roger A. Mola
(Page 4 of 4)
Indeed, all of crowded Hong Kong seemed to have some relationship to the airport. Beneath the checkerboard a miniature golf course once taunted putters with a foot-high Great Wall of China. In the midst was a navigational localizer, while nearby, elderly people participated in a morning tai chi class. The landing aids and mini-golf are gone, but the checkerboard remains a potent symbol to planespotters like Parker, who often mixed business with pleasure. “I’d clear them to land, then pick up my camera,” he grins.
Loh also laments losing the drama of Kai Tak’s legendary approach. He points out the weeds sprouting from the checkerboard, which is today crumbling under the constant movement of the hillsides. “There’s no purpose for it now,” he says.
Luckily for the club, most of the heavy development plans for the airport are focused on Kai Tak Point, which is at the opposite end of the runway from the club. Among the potential additions are an IMAX theater, 50,000-seat stadium, two hotels, a hospital, 28 schools, and a cruiseship terminal with helipad. One group of astronomy enthusiasts wants a 100-story observatory, and the Hong Kong tourism board may build replicas of Chinese junks to sail by the former runway.
Every new deal or development plan seems in some way to threaten the club’s future. In January, Disney’s Michael Eisner, martial arts actor Jackie Chan, and Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa broke ground for a new Disneyland on Lantau Island, where Chek Lap Kok International is located. Both Loh and controller Phil Parker predict that Disney fireworks—which would be directed over water and into one of general aviation’s only areas open for unrestricted visual flight rules—will necessitate new limits for club fliers and cadets.
In addition to the hoped-for aviation playground, there is hope for a proposed aviation museum where Oriental Golf City has taken root on the runway. Loh and Dunnaway’s efforts are aimed at helping the museum become a reality; doing so bolsters their chances of keeping the club’s buildings standing. But Loh scoffs at the museum’s chances: “That’s many, many years down the road if at all,” he says.
Months before Chek Lap Kok opened, the Hong Kong Historical Aircraft Association built a replica of Charles Van den Born’s Wanda and flew it from the new airport’s vast runways. The aircraft was then hung from the ceiling in the new terminal, a placement that Cliff Dunnaway thought was permanent. “Last year the airport marketing staff told me an airplane didn’t fit their vision for a retail experience, and wanted it out,” he says.
Like the heritage it represents, Wanda has been left hanging.