Historic images to celebrate Cathay Pacific's 75th year of flying

Cathay Pacific, one of the world's most recognisable airlines to Kiwis, is celebrating 75 years in the air.

The airline's first flight took place in 1946 using a DC3 propeller plane affectionately known as 'Betsy', flying from Sydney to Hong Kong carrying 2000 one-day-old chicks.

For 38 of its 75 years in the air, Cathay Pacific has been flying between New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Its first flight to Aotearoa was on May 4, 1983. The then state-of-the-art Boeing 747-200 flew from Hong Kong painted in the airline's old livery, affectionately known as the 'lettuce leaf sandwich'.

Cathay Pacific crew in 1970.
Cathay Pacific crew in 1970. Photo credit: Cathay Pacific

In December 2017, the airline launched a direct A350 seasonal service between Christchurch and Hong Kong, and introduced its flagship A350-1000 onto its Auckland route in 2019.

As of June 2021, Cathay Pacific has 196 aircraft including its new Airbus A321neo, Airbus A350s and new Boeing 777-9s due to enter service in a few years.

Until 1998, travellers from New Zealand to Hong Kong landed at the infamous Kai Tak Airport. 

Unlike the city's contemporary airport of today, Kai Tak wasn't known for its modernity: It was known for being a white-knuckle adrenaline rush. Incoming flights would pass by many of Hong Kong's apartments at eye level as pilots navigated their way through the city to the short runway. 

Cathay Pacific crew onboard the Boeing 707.
Cathay Pacific crew onboard the Boeing 707.

That airport is now closed and is being used as a cruise ship terminal with a massive new airport built on reclaimed land.

Key moments in Cathay Pacific history

1946: First ever commercial flight takes off from Sydney

Cathay Pacific's DC-3
Cathay Pacific's DC-3 Photo credit: Cathay Pacific

The Cathay Pacific inaugural flight between Sydney and Hong Kong was flown by founders, Australian Sydney de Kantzow and American Roy Farrell, onboard the airline's first aircraft - a DC3 propeller plane affectionately known as Betsy. 

1962: Cathay Pacific enters the jet age 

Cathay Pacific Convair 880
Cathay Pacific Convair 880

Nine Convair 880 jets were added to the fleet between 1962 and 1974. 

A celebratory image was created with cabin crew dressed in their first red uniform, standing in front of the airline's first jet airliner at the Kai Tak hangar. 

More than five decades later, in 2015, in celebrating the airline's 70th anniversary, this iconic image was recreated with the airline's latest introduction - the Airbus A350. 

In the new photo, the A350 is much bigger than the Convair, with much larger and fuel-efficient engines. 

Serving cabin crew posed in their current uniforms alongside the airline's longest-serving frontline employees, who donned the historical uniform as seen in this original photo. 

1964: One million milestone 

Cathay crew in 1960.
Cathay crew in 1960.

Eighteen years after taking off, Cathay Pacific carried its one millionth passenger. Compare that number to 2019, when the airline was flying 3 million passengers every month.

1974: Cathay launches first nonstop passenger flight

Cathay Pacific Boeing 707
Cathay Pacific Boeing 707

The first non-stop Cathay Pacific passenger flight left Hong Kong for Sydney and was operated by a Boeing 707. 

1983: First New Zealand passenger flight lands in Auckland

Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-200.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-200.

A Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-200 flying from Hong Kong, featuring the old green and white striped livery, affectionately known as the 'lettuce leaf sandwich', touched down at Auckland Airport. It marked the airline's inaugural commercial flight to New Zealand.

1983: First airline in the world to fly non-stop from London to Hong Kong 

Dinner service in the 1960s.
Dinner service in the 1960s.

Limited by the technology at the time, all flights between Hong Kong and London in the '70s-'80s required a fuel stop. 

Cathay Pacific engineers worked closely with Rolls-Royce engineers to enhance the fuel efficiency of the engines, leading to the world's first non-stop flight from London to Hong Kong in 1983. 

This flight achieved a World Record. Cathay Pacific was the first airline in Asia to offer First, Business and Economy Classes on every flight on this route. 

From the Boeing 707, the airline has operated many different aircraft on the Hong Kong to London route including 747s, A330s, 777-300ERs, and A350s.

1991: The first airline to offer live radio service on flights

Cathay Pacific's 90s uniform.
Cathay Pacific's 90s uniform.

As a prime example of how far technology has come, Cathay Pacific would go on to roll out Wi-Fi and live TV onboard in 2016. 

1994: Brushwing livery unveiled for the first time on a brand new Airbus A330 in France

Cathay Pacific Airbus A330.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A330.

The iconic symbol now synonymous with the airline was unveiled for the first time. The brushwing simulates the wings of a powerful bird inflight.

1994: Personal seat back TV available in Business Class 

The simple joy of flying captured in 1948.
The simple joy of flying captured in 1948.

Cathay Pacific was the first to offer a second language audio track in Cantonese on movies at a time when personal TV was not available. On the 18th Boeing 747 delivery, in the armrest of every new-era business class seat was a small personal TV, giving passengers the option to watch six channels on the entertainment system, which featured "non-stop movies, magazine-style documentaries and video clips".

1996: First airline to report environmental activities 

The airline's uniform in the early 70s.
The airline's uniform in the early 70s.

Cathay Pacific began reporting its emission data voluntarily 25 years ago. An annual sustainability report has since been published every year, covering the airline's sustainability activities from people, safety, environment, biodiversity to corporate social responsibility. 

1997: First to operate the Boeing 777-300

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300

1998: Cathay performs the world's first non-stop transpolar flight 

Cathay Pacific's first Boeing 747 during construction.
Cathay Pacific's first Boeing 747 during construction.

This route flies over the North Pole and offers the shortest distance between Asia Pacific and North America. Since Cathay Pacific performed the world's first non-stop transpolar commercial flight, the route has become an industry norm for shorter journey time, saving fuel and reducing emissions. 

1999: The first ever flat bed in First Class

Strike a pose - 1960.
Strike a pose - 1960.

The first Business Class flatbed was launched in a herringbone formation, also on a 747. The first Premium Economy was featured on a 777. 

2004: Nintendo games available on demand 

Usage: All media worldwide

Expiry date: Perpetual

Description: Cabin crew, c. 1960
Photo credit: Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific offered 31 popular Nintendo games onboard and on demand. 

Nintendo Gateway Game Boy was made available in First and Business Class on all Cathay Pacific long-haul aircraft.

2017: Non-stop seasonal service between Hong Kong and Christchurch launched

Departing Christchurch on the first Airbus A350 flight.
Departing Christchurch on the first Airbus A350 flight. Photo credit: Dan Lake/Newshub

The A350 link to New Zealand expanded with the launch of direct flights to Christchurch. The seasonal, three-times weekly, non-stop service was launched to meet the growing demand for visitors to the South Island.

2020: Cathay removes 43 million pieces of single-use plastic from operations

Cathay Pacific Tristar.
Cathay Pacific Tristar.

Cathay Pacific recycles or repurposes around 90 percent of all retired aircraft. 

The airline is committed to reducing its single-use plastic footprint by 50 percent by the end of 2022.

2021: Introduction of brand new A321neo

Airbus A321neo
Airbus A321neo Photo credit: Cathay Pacific

These new aircraft were introduced featuring 4K UHD screens and brand new cabins. 

2021: Airline makes sustainable fuel commitment 

Airbus A350
Airbus A350 Photo credit: Airbus

The airline recently made a commitment to using Sustainable Aviation Fuel for 10 percent of its total fuel consumption by 2030.