Cargo plane chaos shuts down Hong Kong International Airport

Photo courtesy of Jelly Tse via SCMP

Hong Kong’s quest to reclaim its status as a premier international aviation hub hit turbulence this week when a cargo plane incident brought Hong Kong International Airport to a standstill. Cathay Pacific Airways’ gradual resumption of services to pre-pandemic levels has been overshadowed by the chaos caused by a runway shutdown.

A runway closure following a cargo plane emergency forced all air traffic onto a single runway for eight gruelling hours, causing massive disruption across the region. The incident delayed at least 450 flights and left countless passengers stranded, missing their connections.

The drama unfolded at around 7am on Monday, June 17 when an Atlas Air Boeing 747 freighter, which had taken off from the south runway at 4am, was forced to make an emergency landing due to hydraulic failure. The plane burst a tyre on the north runway, triggering the extensive shutdown. The airport authority revealed that suspected tyre debris was discovered shortly after the aircraft’s departure.

While the five-member crew escaped unharmed, the hydraulic failure complicated the removal of the aircraft. Crews had to unload cargo, replace tyres, and meticulously inspect the runway for debris. Normal air traffic operations resumed only at 3.45pm.

Chief Executive John Lee acknowledged the need for a review of contingency procedures to mitigate such disruptions in the future, emphasising that there is always room for improvement without compromising safety. Atlas Air has been instructed to submit a detailed report on the incident to the Hong Kong Airport Authority and the Civil Aviation Department.

With Hong Kong International Airport being the world’s busiest air cargo airport, the pressure to maintain smooth and safe operations is immense. Although cargo volumes remain below pre-pandemic levels, Cathay Pacific aims to fully restore passenger services by early 2025. The completion of all three runways by the end of this year is expected to provide much-needed relief, reported South China Morning Post.

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Puntid Tantivangphaisal

Originally from Hong Kong, Puntid moved to Bangkok in 2020 to pursue further studies in translation. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong. Puntid spent 8 years living in Manchester, UK. Before joining The Thaiger, Puntid has been a freelance translator for 2 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming and listening to music, as well as writing short fiction and poetry.

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