By the late 1960s, Cathay Pacific was falling behind in the jet-age race.
Although Cathay Pacific was one of the most successful carriers in the region with eight nimble, jet-powered Convair 880s, future expansion depended on new aircraft. A few years previously, the airline had cancelled the Hong Kong to Sydney route thanks to competition from Qantas. The Australian carrier was flying non-stop using its new Boeing 707, which had outstripped Cathay’s propeller-driven Lockheed Electras for journey time, speed and capacity.
Cathay turned to Boeing. In the US, marketing and intense competition meant that airlines were engaged in a constant race to have the latest fleet. As well as feeding the market with new aircraft, Boeing also ran a very successful secondhand division; and through this, Cathay bought four of Northwest Orient’s older 707-320Bs. The airline would later go on to buy 12 of its 707s, mainly the intercontinental 320C models.
At the same time, Boeing had introduced a new 707 cabin with a ‘wide-body’ look for those airlines unable to afford the expensive 747. Cathay Pacific’s secondhand 707 fleet featured sculpted cabin walls, new baggage bins, lights and seating. These would be fitted on delivery in Hong Kong, along with the 320C’s strengthened undercarriage that would allow for greater landing weights, suiting the airline’s short-haul and multi-stop routes.
So it was that VR-HGH, the airline’s first 707, left the Northwest Orient fleet in June 1971 and touched down at Kai Tak to join Cathay Pacific. There was a spacious interior in the now-distinctive blend of blues and greens and a vivid new livery, featuring a brighter ‘Brunswick’ green.
VR-HGH entered service on 24 August 1971 with a champagne-fuelled service to Tokyo via Taipei and Osaka. Three years later, with an expanded 707 fleet, Cathay Pacific used the aircraft to once more compete on the Hong Kong to Sydney route.