“Jumbo day for Cathay as its first 747 arrives” ran the headline in the South China Morning Post on August 1, 1979. Below it, the opening paragraph read: “Cathay Pacific entered the jumbo era yesterday with the arrival of its first Boeing 747 from the United States.”
That era came to a close on October 1, when Cathay marked its retirement of the “queen of the skies” as a passenger plane.
The jumbo jets were slow off the runway for Cathay, the airline taking delivery of its first plane nine years after Pan Am ushered 747s into service in the US.
It was a precursor to the decision to place an order for the jets, which played out under the media spotlight in 1973, as Boeing’s baby vied with the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar to become the airline’s first wide-bodied jet, that provided the Post’s first mention of the 747.
Bruce Maxwell speculated in his Air World column: “My own bets are still on the 747, but if I was a bookmaker I wouldn’t be chalking up very long odds for the DC-10 either. So there you have it. They’ll probably turn around and buy TriStars or the Airbus.”
In the event, for reasons of economy, fuelled no doubt by the escalating 1973 oil crisis, the TriStar was chosen.
By February 1978, Cathay was reported to have ordered its first Boeing 747 at a cost of HK$230 million.
When the plane arrived in Hong Kong, it was welcomed by governor Sir Murray MacLehose and a military band. The Post’s story continued, “The Boeing, one of three on order by the company ... will make its inauguration flight to Australia on Friday.
“High rates of pay plus a desire to live in Hongkong have attracted many highly-qualified pilots and engineers from places such as Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.”