Forty years ago, a Cathay Pacific Boeing 707 took off from Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport bound for Sydney.
When it landed some nine hours later on October 22, 1974, it marked the start of Cathay’s 40-year unbroken run of service between the NSW capital and Hong Kong.
In that time, the Hong Kong flag carrier has flown more than 10 million passengers and one million tonnes of freight on the route.
In 1974, the vast majority of the airline’s passengers from Sydney were headed to Hong Kong and vice versa on one of Cathay’s three weekly flights.
Today, with Cathay’s vast Asian, North American and European networks that span 190 destinations in 47 countries, many of those on one of the airline’s four daily flights from Sydney were headed to points beyond Hong Kong via its Chek Lap Kok hub.
“Now, if you look at the network that we have and indeed other carriers have beyond their hub, more than half of our passengers out of Australia go beyond Hong Kong to other places,” Cathay director of corporate development James Barrington said on Tuesday.
From the Boeing 707 to the 747 and eventually A330s of today, Australia has grown to become Cathay’s fourth largest market, Barrington said, connecting Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Cairns to Hong Kong with with 74 flights a week.
And there is more growth planned for later in the year when Cathay switches one A330 service in Sydney to the larger Boeing 777-300ER.
Captain Hal Dyball was on the flight deck on the first Cathay service out of Sydney – his last as a first officer given he was promoted to captain upon landing in Hong Kong.
He featured heavily in Cathay’s Australian advertising campaign and recalls seeing his face out and about around Sydney.
“In those days I couldn’t go to the movies without seeing myself on the big screen,” Hyball recalls.
“I not only appeared in the filmed ads but also saw my face on posters on the windows of travel agents all over Sydney.”
If he had gone into any of those travel agents, Dyball would have discovered a ticket on the first flight in 1974 cost A$541.90, compared with the best price of A$857 today.
A flight attendant on the first flight Iris Lim said the task of keeping passengers entertained without the modern television screens of today involved handing out playing cards, cigarettes and fans to passengers.
There was also the meal service, which in first class sometimes involved carving roast lamb or tossing salads in front of each passenger.
“Rack of lamb was always particularly tricky,” Lim said.
“We had to add little white frills – you never see them these days – to the lamb rack before carving and serving.
“It was very tiring. You were really on your feet for almost all of the time on board – we pretty much walked from Hong Kong to Sydney. And you had to do it as stylishly as possible.”
While Lim is no longer a flight attendant, she is still working at Cathay, managing uniform projects and the “Walking on Air” fashion show that celebrated Cathay’s uniforms through the decade.
Meanwhile, Dyball has retired from Cathay and lives in Sydney. He is still flying however, offering his services to the Angel Flight organisation, which helps fly people living in country areas in need of medical assistance get the care they need.