“Excellence in flight.” Three words. One mission. This is the reality of Korean Air, a Seoul-based, world class airline. Guided by their mantra of perseverance, Korean Air journeyed far from its founding and initial failure in the 1960’s. Today, it commands the skies with a fleet of over 140 modern planes servicing 122 destinations in over 40 countries (“Korea Air”). Yet, its beginning differs greatly from the status quo.
In reality, the airline was founded by Choong-Hoon Cho in 1945 as a trucking company to service US military outposts in South Korea. In 1960, the South Korean government nationalized the company and [out of national security concerns] attempted transforming it into an airline, dubbing it the Korean National Airline. Unable to compete and garnering little air traffic demand, the government scheme ultimately failed and by 1962, the government invited Cho to restructure the airline. Commending his success in turning the bankrupt company around, the government returned control of the KNA to Cho in 1969. To commemorate his acquisition, Cho renamed the corporation Korea Air Lines Co ("Korean Air Lines Co., Ltd. History").
Reasonably, the airline struggled to spur demand in the 1970’s. For one, the South Korean government restricted Korean civilian travel abroad and domestically. Additionally, the Soviet Union, out of Cold war animosity, barred Korea Air Lines from flying in Soviet airspace, limiting its ability to offer flights to Europe. As a result, the company focused on cargo and international flights to the US. To maximize its profits, Korea Air Lines engaged in two upgrade efforts: a full computerization of the company’s operations and entrance into the Korean defense aerospace industry, becoming the first Korean company to manufacture fighter aircraft ("Korean Air Lines Co., Ltd. History"). Setting a trend of calculated risk-taking, the company also became the Airbus’s first customer in 1975 ("Korean Air Lines Fleet Details and History").
Fortunately, the 1980’s offered some relief to the company. In 1988, for example, the Olympics chose Korea Air as the official airline sponsor of the Olympic Games; Korea Air utilized the international publicity to convince international fliers that it was a first-class class airline. In 1989, the South Korean government lifted the civilian travel bans it previously enforced. Suddenly, the company’s domestic operations doubled with the massive influx of new customers. Throughout the decade, the airline persistently made efforts to increase its market share in China’s air travel market. Unfortunately, the 80’s troubled the company as well: in 1983, the Soviet military shot down a Korea Air Line flight traveling from the US to South Korea; to make matters worse, the destruction of the jet resulted in the death of Rep. Larry McDonald (D - GA). The incident inflamed the American and South Korean governments, both condemning Kruschev’s negligent use of military force. Reagan’s harsh...