The Boeing 747 was a pivotal part of the Cathay Pacific fleet for over three decades until its eventual retirement in 2016. The carrier still operates the 747 as a cargo plane, but what exactly happened to all of its passenger Boeing 747s?
37 years of the Boeing 747
Cathay Pacific received its first Boeing 747, a 747-267B (registration: VR-HKG), on July 20, 1979. Over the next decade, the airline would invest in several 747-200s and 747-300s before the introduction of the best-selling 747-400 to the market in the 1990s. Cathay would purchase 18 passenger 747-400s directly from Boeing over the next decade and also snapped up seven 747-412s from Singapore Airlines.
However, the glory days of Cathay’s 747s were soon on the decline as the airline looked to other planes for its fleet, including the 777-300ER. Cathay took delivery of its first twin-engine 777-300ER in 2007; by 2014, its 747 fleet had been reduced to half a dozen.
By 2016, Cathay had just three operational passenger 747s – B-HUJ, B-HUI and B-HKT – and would officially retire the type from its fleet permanently in the same year.
According to Mark Hoey, Cathay Pacific General Manager Operations and a former pilot of the 747,
“The 747 fundamentally changed the way people were able to travel. Being able to carry more people for far greater distances than before meant the 747 effectively shrunk the planet. As a result, it helped make Hong Kong become a world city.”
The last 747 in the fleet
B-HUJ, the last Cathay Pacific passenger Boeing 747-400 to fly, had a commemorative flyover of Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong on its final flight on October 8, 2016. During this trip (Cathay Pacific flight 8747), the plane carried around 300 Cathay staff members, many dressed in 1970s and 1980s-era clothing to celebrate the plane’s history.
The plane’s final passenger flight was from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Hong Kong on October 1, 2016. After it was retired from the Cathay fleet, B-HUJ was dismantled and recycled in 2017. Interestingly, the skin of the fuselage was used to make 3,000 special-edition luggage tags.
Almost all 747s were broken up
Other than a couple of exceptions, the vast majority of Cathay’s 747 fleet was eventually moved on to the scrapheap. Some of the airline’s earlier 747-200s entered service with new airlines after they moved on from Cathay, while almost all of its 747-400s were scrapped in the 2010s as it retired the type from its fleet.
One of Cathay’s last remaining 747s, B-HUI, was partially preserved after being sent to the scrapheap. The plane was broken up at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome in 2017, with its cockpit preserved and on display at the South Wales Aviation Museum.
Although the airline got rid of its final passenger 747 in 2016, it continues to operate the 747 for cargo operations. In total, the airline has six 747-400 and 14 747-8 freighter variants. The airline has also been adapting its other planes for cargo operations, with passenger demand drying up in the ongoing pandemic.
Did you ever fly on a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747? Feel free to share your experience and memories in the comments.