Hong Kong international airport

Year:1998

Duration:6 years

Cost:£14.1bn (£22.8bn today)

Country: Hong Kong

What did this project achieve?

Build a new international airport for Hong Kong that can withstand climate extremes

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), also known as Chek Lap Kok airport, is the main airport in Hong Kong. Built on mainly reclaimed land, it opened in 1998 – replacing Kai Tak, the city-state’s previous air terminal.

The new HKIA was needed as by the 1990s Kai Tak had become one of the busiest airports in the world and couldn’t be expanded any further. Located in the densely built up Kowloon area, it had only one runway and very little space for aircraft to wait or taxi.

Hong Kong authorities decided on a major modernisation scheme to replace Kai Tak. The Airport Core Programme (ACP) involved not just a new airport but also a new transport link including roads, rail links, bridges and tunnels.

The project included Tsing Ma bridge which at 2.2km is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. It also meant major land reclamation schemes on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

The ACP was one of the most expensive airport projects ever according to Guinness World Records.

HKIA now handles 71 million passengers a year making it the 8th busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic. It’s the world’s busiest by cargo traffic.

The airport was voted one of the Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century at construction trade show ConExpo in 1999.

 

Difference the airport has made

The construction of HKIA was regarded as a major vote of confidence in the future of Hong Kong during the run up to the former colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

With more than 100 airlines flying to over 220 cities around the world the airport has helped secure Hong Kong’s place as a major trading hub in the region.

HKIA is an important part of Hong Kong's economy and employs over 73,000 people.

How the work was done

Engineers built HKIA with 2 parallel runways, both of which are 3,800m long and 60m wide. At the time it opened the airport’s Terminal 1 was the biggest in the world. It’s now the third biggest.

The project team designed the sides of the terminal – which are mainly glass – to break during high speed winds. This was to relieve pressure and help the building survive a typhoon.

With a lightweight roof canopy and natural lighting the terminal building extends a concept first used at London’s Stansted airport.

Engineers designed the structure so that passengers are always aware of land on one side and aircraft on the other. Technical equipment for baggage handling, transportation and other services were put below the main passenger concourse to keep them out of the way.

The project saw a major land reclamation programme on Chek Lap Kok. Engineers expanded the island to 4 times its original area – equal to the size of the Kowloon Peninsula.

The airport opened on 2 July 1998. Hours later Air Force One carrying US President Bill Clinton became HKIA’s first foreign visitor.

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From above the roof gives the building the appearance of an aircraft on a scale that not even Howard Hughes would have dreamt of.

Newspaper review

of Hong Kong International Airport

Fascinating facts

As well as being one of the busiest airports in the world HKIA’s predecessor Kai Tak was also known as one of the scariest. Landing at the airport meant the pilot had to make a sharp right turn over densely populated Kowloon. The plane would often exit the turn as low as 43m above ground to line up with the runway.

The demanding manoeuvre became known among pilots as the ‘Hong Kong Turn.’ Among passengers it was known as the ‘Kai Tak Heart Attack.’

In November 1993 a China Air Boeing 747 overran the runway and toppled into Kowloon Bay while trying to land in heavy winds. Fortunately, there were only minor injuries among the 396 passengers and crew.

People who made it happen

  • Designer: Mott Connell (part of Mott MacDonald)
  • Architect: Foster and Partners
  • Specialist structural designers: Ove Arup

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