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Our history

From a single plane to a world-leading airline and premium lifestyle brand, we celebrate the highlights of our journey so far.

Where it all began

1946 - The Cathay story begins

At the end of the Second World War, Roy Farrell and Sydney de Kantzow – two ex-Air Force pilots known for flying ‘The Hump’ over the Himalayas – spot an opportunity to fly much-needed goods from Australia into China. They buy a Douglas DC-3 plane, nicknamed ‘Betsy’, and Cathay Pacific is officially born: an airline fuelled by its founders' passion for flying, progressive thinking and drive to connect the world and its people.

In fact, our very name originates from Roy Farrell’s sense of ambition – that the new airline would one day cross the vast Pacific Ocean from China. We officially achieve this milestone less than 30 years later.

1959 – Growth spurt

After steady beginnings, Cathay Pacific acquires rival Hong Kong Airways and gains additional traffic rights to Japan and Australia – adding Darwin, Sydney, Tokyo and Taipei to the network.

Two Lockheed Electra aircraft are introduced to the fleet this year. Painted in a new smart green and white livery, these are the first aircraft to offer a premium cabin, with 12 First class seats. The Electras would go on flying until 1967.

Expansion days

1962 - Entering the jet age

We buy our first Convair 880 in 1962, and by 1968 we have an all-jet fleet, with eight 880s zipping around our regional network. This ‘sporty’ aircraft is popular with pilots, and flying the sectors quicker means that we can expand our regional network to new destinations – including Fukuoka and Nagoya (1966) and Kota Kinabalu and Okinawa (1967).

  • 1970 - Two new Discoveries

    Our first-ever lounge opens at Kai Tak Airport. The Discovery lounge is a small, secluded and peaceful space for VIP and Marco Polo Club members to relax before their flight. We also publish the first edition of inflight magazine, Discovery.

  • 1976 - Cargo gets serious

    One of our Boeing 707s (delivered in 1971) is converted into an all-freighter configuration, with a big cargo door and Cathay Pacific Cargo branding. These days, it’s our modern Boeing 747 freighter fleet that moves vital goods and vaccines across the world.

  • 1979 - The Jumbo arrives

    Our first Boeing 747, VR-HKG, arrives in Hong Kong. The 747 would go on to propel Cathay Pacific from a regional carrier to a global player with a long-haul network: flights to London Gatwick begin the following year, with a service stop in Bahrain to refuel. This legacy continued with the new and improved 747-400, introduced in 1989, which opened up many more non-stop, long-haul destinations across Europe and North America – connecting people across all corners of the world.

New heights

1983 - Betsy comes home

Betsy, Cathay Pacific’s first-ever aircraft, arrives back in Hong Kong under her own power after a restoration in Australia. She is donated to the Hong Kong Museum of Science & Technology, where she still resides today. In 2017, we commemorate her with Betsy Beer – a craft beer brewed to taste better at 35,000 feet.

1991 - European expansion

A busy year of new non-stop routes to Europe using the extended range offered by the Boeing 747-400, following on from the first non-stop service to Los Angeles from Hong Kong the previous year. This year saw new non-stop services to London Heathrow, Zurich and Amsterdam, marking us as a truly vital link between Asia and Europe.

Breaking grounds

1992 – The silver (seat back) screen

Personal seat-back TVs are introduced to First class, extending to Business in 1994 and all cabins by 1996. The revolutionary move gave passengers access to six channels, featuring ‘non-stop movies, magazine-style documentaries and video clips’ in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese. Innovation in inflight entertainment has continued to evolve – now our Airbus A321neos feature 4K Ultra-HD screens in every cabin, with thousands of hours of entertainment on offer.

1998 – Breaking new records

The CX889 ‘Polar One’ flight, operated by a Boeing 747-400, sets three records in a night: the first non-stop passenger flight from New York to Hong Kong; the first scheduled commercial flight to land at Hong Kong’s new airport at Chek Lap Kok; and the longest non-stop commercial flight ever made at 7,465 nautical miles – completed in 15 hours and 35 minutes thanks to a new route over the North Pole.

This was also the year the oneworld alliance was officially formed, in partnership with American Airlines, British Airways, Canadian Airlines and Qantas.

  • 1999 – Loyalty rewarded

    The Asia Miles programme is born, allowing members to earn and redeem air miles as they travel and shop.

  • 2003 – Inspiring the next generation

    The first “I Can Fly” event is launched, with 500 youngsters taking part. The biannual programme helps youngsters gain valuable insight into the world of aviation.

  • 2012 – Premium Economy launches

    We introduce a new cabin class, offering our customers even more options and better ways to fly.

Forging ahead


  • 2014 – Best airline in the world

    We win the Skytrax Best Airline award for the fourth time – making us the first airline to achieve this aviation milestone.

  • 2015 - New image

    Our fleet gets a facelift, with a new brushwing design and a refreshed colour palette: this marks the first time the fleet has had a makeover in 20 years.

  • 2016 – Farewell to an icon; hello to the future

    We say goodbye to our passenger Boeing 747-400 fleet. Tickets sell out in minutes for the final commemorative flight, marked by a low-level flyover of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. We welcome the first of what will grow to be 48 Airbus A350 aircraft, setting new standards in cabin comfort.

2021 – Ready for the next 75

As we celebrate our 75th anniversary, we launch Cathay in Hong Kong – our new premium travel lifestyle brand, which offers our customers more ways to shop, save and be rewarded.

We pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, leading the way to a more sustainable future for aviation. And we introduce our innovative new Airbus A321neo aircraft, redefining the possibilities of short-haul travel.