Korean Air chairman’s surprise death in Los Angeles

April 08, 2019
Korean Air
Korean Air's Cho Yang-ho in 2016. photo: Jeon Han, Government of the Republic of Korea.

Long-serving and controversial Korean Air chairman and chief executive Cho Yang-ho has died in a Los Angeles hospital.

The 70-year-old’s death comes after a long career in aviation that was marred by scandal towards the end.

Cho recently failed to extend his tenure on the carrier’s board when he fell short of achieving the two-thirds vote required.

The vote was seen as a reaction to a series of scandals that included the 2018 “nut rage’ incident involving youngest daughter Emily and an indictment in October on embezzlement and tax evasion charges.

Cho had been on the Korean Air board for 27 years but his position as chairman and chief executive, which he had held for two decades, were not affected by the vote.

The family controls Korean Air’s parent company, the Hanjin Group, one of the nation’s famous chaebols. Cho’s son, Walter, remains on the board and is the airline’s president.

The elder Cho was a well-known figure in the aviation industry who was a founder of the Skyteam alliance, led the successful bid committee for the 2018 Winter Olympics and had served on the board of governors of the International Air Transport Association.

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“Under his guidance, Korean Air became a global powerhouse flying to 124 cities and 44 countries, emerging as America’s largest Asian airline with 15 North American gateways,’’ Korean Air said in a statement.

“He recently negotiated a joint venture with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, that created the industry’s most comprehensive transpacific network.”

Cho was involved in the airline industry throughout his life after his father,  Choong-Hoon Cho,  acquired and privatized Korean Air 50 years ago.

He began working for Korean Air as a manager in the Americas Regional Headquarters in Los Angeles in 1974 after graduating from the University of Southern California.

He was named the airline’s chairman and chief executive in 1999 having served as president and CEO four years earlier.

Awards conferred throughout his career included the title of `Grand Officier’ in France’s Légion d’Honneur and the `Mugunghwa Medal’ in Korea.

Cho was also the vice chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, co-chairman of the Korea-U.S. Business Council, and served as the co-president of l’Année France-Corée 2015-2016.

He is survived by his wife and children.