Korean Air’s bittersweet 50th anniversary

Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho was ousted from Korean Air board on March 27, 2019. Ironically enough, March 2019 is also the month when Korean Air celebrates its 50th anniversary, inherently connected to Cho and his family.

The year 2019 is full of aviation milestones. In October 2019, the world’s oldest airline still in operation, KLM, will reach its 100 years mark. British Airways, tracking its roots back through multiple mergers and acquisitions, has already began celebrating its centenary as well. Korean Air takes a contrary approach.

When it comes to history of carriers of Korea, the first commercial passenger and cargo airline, Korean National Airlines, was established in 1946 and commenced operations in 1948. The airline, which operated under Koreanair brand, was a private company until nationalization in 1962.

To replace the previous airline, the South Korean government formed Korean Air Lines in 1962. Seven years later, it was privatize by Hanjin Transport Group, which took control by March 1, 1969.

This is the point where Korean Air begins counting its history. “Korean Air, founded in 1969 when Cho Jung Hun acquired the Korea Air Corporation, has played a key role in the economic development of Korea, flying over five oceans and six continents with the nation’s ‘Taeguek’ symbol on the tail fin of the plane,” a statement by the airline reads.

After Cho Jung Hun, the helm of the airline went to his son, Cho Yang-ho. “From 1990 to 2000, Chairman of the Hanjin Group, which operates Korean Air, Cho Yang-ho made significant breakthroughs when he took on full leadership roles,” Korean Air’s statement goes on. “Chairman Yang-ho became the President of Korean Air in 1992, Chairman of Korean Air in 1999, and Chairman of Hanjin Group in 2003”. Currently, the President’s role at the airline belongs to a third-generation Cho ‒ Cho Won-tae, also known as Walter Cho.

But lately, Cho family is not as much known for the business as for various scandals, ranging from alleged financial misdemeanors and smuggling, to ill-temper demonstrations. In March 2018, hundreds of Korean Air employees took to streets demanding Cho Yang-ho’s resignation and expressing anger of the family itself.

As for the 50th anniversary, Korean Air plans to host a variety of events this year. On April 23, it will operate “an extraordinary” flight from Incheon to Ho Chi Minh to commemorate its first international route as a private airline. Also starting in April, some the airline’s flight attendants will wear historic uniforms from 1969 to modern day on routes to L.A., Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney and Jeju. Ten aircraft from the carriers fleet of 166 will carry anniversary emblem and slogan “Beyond 50 Years of Excellence” on their livery until the end of 2019.

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