Cathay Pacific entered the 1980s as a respected and major air carrier in the Far-east, however in terms of fleet size it was still small fry. Since then the airline's growth and success can be largely attributed to two types both Boeing widebodies - the 747 and the 777. Though the A330/340 family has also been a major product for the airline the carrier's most prestigious services have been flown by either of the Boeing types and the 29 A340s can be largely seen as supporting units, or in the case of the series 600s a stopgap prior to the adoption of the ultimate 777-300ER variant.
Cathay Pacific didn’t receive its first 747-267B (VR-HKG) until July 1979 and received seven more up until April 1984 (VR-HIA-HIF & H). From that point deliveries switched to series 367s with 6 arriving between June 1985 and July 1988 (VR-HII-K, VR-HOL-N). In fact the last two 747-367s were actually later on the production line than the airline’s first 747-467 (albeit they were delivered earlier). VR-HII was the first aircraft and entered service on June 19, 1985 with a Hong-Kong-Singapore-Jakarta sector. The older 747s were quickly supplanted by the increasingly large 747-400 fleet though all survived long enough to acquire B regs after 1997. Five aircraft were leased to Pakistan International from 1999 (with the sixth going in 2002). B-HII became AP-BFW and wasn’t withdrawn from use until 2012.
What is interesting is that Cathay entered the 1990s with only 17 747s (8 -200s, 1 -200F, 6 -300s and 2 -400s) and 21 L-1011s Tristars (they had bought several second-hand L-1011s in the late 80s to add to their initial orders). Twenty five years later and the fleet contains nearly 150 widebodies.
Cathay Pacific was the launch customer for the stretched series 300 777 when B-HNH was delivered on May 22, 1998. Following twelve standard 300s delivered up to July 2006 the airline switched to the improved series 300ER and this has become the airline’s primary long-haul type since. B-KQX was the 50th 777-300ER delivered to Cathay and has been painted with titles to denote this. Cathay itself has operated 74 777s in its history only just short of the 90 747s. 70 aircraft remain in service.
The 747-300 and the 777-300ER make an interesting comparison. Though the 747-300 at first appears more massive due to the extra engines and double deck the 777-300ER is substantially longer (73.9m to 70.6m). Another noticeable difference is the small size of the vertical stabiliser in the 777 series. Being essentially a warmover of the 747-200, but with stretched upper deck, the series 300 suffers slightly in range to the 200 with a maximum range at MTOW of 7,700 miles (12,400km). The 777-300ER meanwhile manages an impressive 8,480 miles (13,600km) at MTOW.
Cathay fitted out there 747-300s in a 422 passenger three class configuration (29 first, 63 Marco-Polo business and 330 economy). Smoking was still allowed in 1989. Without a doubt seat 1a, right at the nose on its own, was the place to be. Nowadays Cathay's 777-300ERs are configured in a 340 seat three class arrangement consisting of 40 Business class, 32 Premium economy and 268 economy. There has obviously been a quantum leap in seating design and in flight entertainment despite the removal of first class itself (and smoking).
Seating less passengers than a 747 but with outstanding range on only two engines it is easy to see that the 777 is ideal for a wide range of routes found at major international airlines like Cathay.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: