Home Airline Profiles Cathay Pacific Airways Through Time

Cathay Pacific Airways Through Time

by Matt Falcus

Cathay Pacific is one of the world’s most prominent and well-respected national carriers.

Its fleet can be seen all over the world, but recent travel restrictions as a result of Covid-19 have hit the airline hard.

Find out its history and how it has changed through the years…



Photo (c) Erik Ritterbach

Cathay Pacific serves the island nation of Hong Kong – now once again part of China, but for many years a British colony.

The airline was founded in 1946 and had its home base at the memorable Kai Tak airport in Kowloon Bay for many years, which necessitated low, curving approaches over the neighbouring high rises of the city by aircraft landing there, and was a favourite among plane spotters.

The airline began services with war surplus Douglas DC-3 aircraft ferrying freight on charters, initially out of Shanghai, but later relocating to Hong Kong.

The name Cathay is actually an old name for China.


Cathay Pacific Liveries

Cathay Pacific at Saigon's Airport 1968

Initially, aircraft wore bare metal with red titles.

Later a silver and white livery, with thin red cheatline and ‘Cathay Pacific Airways’ titles in red and black, was worn.

Communi core by S.Fujioka, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

In the 1970s the now famous Brunswick green colour was adopted with the arrival of the first jet aircraft into its fleet.

This livery saw a thick green cheatline along the fuselage, with white above and bare metal below.

On the green tail were two horizontal white stripes.

In the early 1990s Cathay Pacific introduced its “Brushwing” livery. This saw a thick, light blue/grey cheatline along a white fuselage, with a dark green forward section of cheatline.

The tail was also dark green, with a red band, white upper section, and the white brushwing logo representing a bird in flight.

Cathay Pacific A350

In 2015 the present livery was introduced. The brushwing logo was kept on the green tail, but became bigger and lost the red band.

The fuselage is now white with the light blue/grey cheatline under the windows. A green brushwing logo is behind the cockpit, and green Cathay Pacific titles dominate above the windows.


Cathay Pacific’s Fleets


As mentioned, Cathay Pacific began life using war surplus aircraft like the Douglas DC-3. One of these first two aircraft, named Betsy, is on display at the Hong Kong Science Museum.

Douglas DC-4s and DC-6Bs were added in 1949 and 1958 respectively, with the Lockheed L-188 Electra added in 1959 as the airline’s network expanded.

In 1962 Cathay Pacific entered the jet age with the introduction of the Convair 880.

The Boeing 707 arrived in 1971, replacing the Convairs.

In 1979 the airline’s first widebody aircraft arrived in the form of the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. Nineteen of these were operated before being retired in 1996.

The Boeing 747, for which Cathay Pacific had a long association, arrived in 1979 – initially the 747-200B was used, along with the -200 freighter.


In 1985 Cathay Pacific became one of the early operators of the stretched 747-300, and in 1989 it received its first 747-400.

1994 saw the arrival of the airline’s first Airbus A340-200. A340-300s were added from 1996, and -600s from 2002.

In 1996 the airline became one of the first to operate the Boeing 777. In fact, it flew the prototype 777-200 until 2019.

In 2020, with the demise of its partner Cathay Dragon, Cathay Pacific began taking delivery of the former’s order for Airbus A321neo aircraft. This marked the first narrowbody aircraft to join the fleet in many years, and has allowed it to serve thinner routes not suitable to widebody capacities.

Cathay Pacific Cargo at Hong Kong. Photo (c) Erik Ritterbach

Today Cathay Pacific’s fleet comprises the following types:

  • Airbus A321-200
  • Airbus A321neo
  • Airbus A330-300
  • Airbus A350-900/1000
  • Boeing 777-300/300ER


The future Cathay Pacific fleet will see the Boeing 777-9 arrive from 2025, along with more A321neos and A350s.

Older Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s will gradually be retired.



Route network

Along with its cargo division, Cathay Pacific serves almost 90 destinations around the world.

Its busiest focus is on its Asia and Far East network. However, it serves airports in Africa, Europe, North and South America from its Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok base, and is a part of the Oneworld alliance with other major carriers.

The airline completed the move from Kai Tak airport in 1998, and has now developed a much more fitting hub at the modern airport.


The Future

B777-300ER | Cathay Pacific | B-KPM | VHHH

Cathay Pacific has a proud history dating almost 80 years. Its service has always been admired, and it has a modern fleet with an excellent safety record.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the airline hard.

With closures to visitors and transit passengers, the airline has grounded much of its fleet for long periods and seen only a fraction of its former passenger figures carried.

The demise of Cathay Dragon has allowed the airline to absorb smaller, more fuel efficient aircraft to better match with some routes, and develop others.

However, the future of this famous airline will also rely on a strong bounce back in tourism and business travel once Covid restrictions are fully over.



Lost Airline Colours of Asia

See the former liveries of Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon and many other current and lost airlines from across Asia in our new book, Lost Airline Colours of Asia, by Martyn Cartledge.

Out now. Order your copy here.




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MERV CROWE February 24, 2022 - 6:32 am

We have been flying with CATHAY PACIFIC since 1987, on the 747-200/ 300 and 400, the A330-300, A340 and 777-300, and always a great flight.
Our children when primary and high school students, became members of the kids club with all sorts of give aways…and we still have them !
Also fortunate in having many flight deck take off and landings ( being an airline ops. person), just magnificent.

John Townes March 3, 2022 - 6:01 pm

My only CP flight was from Kai Tak to Manila on a Lockheed Electra when I was station manager at Clark AFB for American International on the MATS Inter Island DC-4 operation. Later I flew on one of our DC-4s into Kai Tak sitting behind the captain on the jump seat. A great view of the checker board approach. How lucky was I.

Matt Falcus March 3, 2022 - 9:20 pm

Wow, amazing John! Very lucky indeed!


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