Tom Haines

One pilot sparks GA in an entire country

June 12, 2010 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

You don’t know HaeWoon Lee’s name, but he is to Korea what instrument flight pioneer Lawrence Sperry or pilot extraordinaire Frank Kingston Smith is to general aviation in the United States. Lee isn’t a pioneer in general aviation in South Korea, he is the pioneer. He literally brought GA as we know it to his country, and only a dozen years ago.

Lee, an electronics entrepreneur, brought a ragtag, crashed Cessna 210 into the country in 1998  and through sheer willpower and a lot of cash and determination, rebuilt it and convinced the authorities to set up a means by which he could register it in the country. That task alone took nearly five years. Prior to Lee’s intervention, the only thing close to GA flying in the South Korea was that done by ultralights. The ultralights could not fly higher than 500 feet agl or more than 3 nm from the airport. With his introduction of the 210 and a Cessna 172 a friend of his bought to start a flight school, they launched what is still a fledgling and fragile GA industry in the country.

Today there are 18 rental aircraft in Korea. Lee, determined to grow GA in his nation, is the president of AOPA Korea and was a speaker at the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association’s World Assembly in Tel Aviv in mid June. He is just one of many pilots from around the world who told tales of overcoming remarkable odds to promote general aviation.

12 Responses to “One pilot sparks GA in an entire country”

  1. Andrew Leonard Says:

    Very cool article. Yes, GA is pretty much non-existent in Korea. I’m an American living and teaching in Korea, and I have very few options when it comes to flying here. The situation seems to be slowly improving, though.

    There is a flight school south of Seoul, Expat Flyers, run by a guy who owns his own plane. It turns out, supposedly, that foreigners can’t fly solo here , but I was told that I could fly left-seat and tour with the guidance of a Korean pilot. It’s a lot more expensive than it is in the US (I think this is true anywhere, given GA in the us is the cheapest in the world), but I think it would be fantastic to fly GA in a new place, even if only for 1.5 on the hobbs.

  2. Andrew Leonard Says:

    Forgot to mention that I’m a private pilot in the US – puts my blub into context! I got my private pilot certificate on 4/25/2008 and have flown nearly equal hours in C-152s, C-172s, C-206s, and a Bellanca Scout 8GCBC.

  3. Joon Says:

    Congratulations Mr.Lee.
    Now you became a world famous person.
    He is the pioneer. No doubt about it.

  4. Alon Shlesinger Says:

    Upon arrival to Korea 5 years ago one of the first things I did (if not the very first) was to look up the GA situation in the country. HaeWoon Lee welcomed me with open arms and we immediately shared the common enthusiasm which makes any GA pilot feel at home anywhere in the world. Flying in his beautiful C-210, my favorates among the single engines, gave me a home feeling in a place that initially felt very different from Home.
    As the years past my father, a pilot as well, came to fly here while visiting and I got to know the global network surrounding HaeWoon Lee and his pioneering work.
    I was very proud to have Mr. Lee at my home country, Israel, in the anual AOPA event last week and felt he was representing Korea which is now a bit my country as well, thanks to him and his passion for flying.
    Thank Mr. Lee for your friendship and keep on going full throttle.

  5. Fernando Diz Says:

    I am in Korea and about to meet Mr. Lee. Thanks to him, he put me in touch with Captain Lee who also happens to be an instructor at Gimpo Airport flight School. They fly C-172, and Semioles. Captain Lee is very knowledgeable and a great host. I was treated first class by both Capt. Lee and the other instructors at the FlightSchool. thanks to HeaWoon Lee I was able to meet all these pilots and instructors who were courteous, generous with their time and knowledge. I recommend this place to any American coming to Korea. Expats flying does not operate out of Gimpo and they seem to operate only experimental airplanes (I may be wrong on this account) but I saw the dirt strip where they operate from while on a flight going south of Gimpo airport. I contacted them and they seem to be a business offering flying classes and they have a membership base. At any rate, I was discouraged by them about the whole flying business in Korea. A totally different experience once I contacted Capt. Lee and the flight School at Gimpo. They explained everything I needed to know, the regulations, and how you go about flying in Korea. I would highly recommend them if you want to have a chance of flying in Korea.

  6. Joon Says:

    I wish I had been there. I was supposed to ride that airplane with you that day.
    But I couldn’t make it. I just tried to have lunch with you. But also I failed to do so.

    I am one of Korea AOPA member and I wanted to welcome you with all my heart.
    I wanted to give good impressions to foreigner AOPA members who come to Korea for a short visit.
    But as I can see and hear from Mr.Lee, he did a pretty good job welcoming foreign
    AOPA member. He posted the picture and story that day on Korea AOPA official website.
    http://www.aopakorea.org. I’m jealous. ^^ I also wanted to see your I-pad and GPS stuff.

    It’s good to hear that you’re welcomed well. I hope we can get toghter later. See ya’

  7. Chris Marz Says:

    I am in SK for the next 3 months working in the Busan area. I am looking for contact details to meet Capt Lee or encouraging others in SK GA

    I have a modest number of hours, US PPL looking to discover SK flying.

    All guidance welcome.

  8. Peter Lenton Says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting and being hosted by Haewoon Lee last year when I was visiting Korea to see my son who is in the US Army. Mr Lee was extremely gracious and I enjoyed the experience immensely.

    Thank you Mr Lee for taking the time to foster GA in Korea and I wish you the very best of luck

    Please let me know if you are ever in the United States. I recently entered a partnership in a Mooney Acclaim and would very much enjoy the privilege of taking you for a ride

    - Peter Lenton, CFI
    peterlenton@cox.net

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  12. Bob Freeman Says:

    I met Haewoon Lee in November of 2011 when I was assessing flying options in S Korea prior to my taking an Expat assignment here. He and I have become great friends over the last 2.5 years and he continues to be an inspiration to me and others for his amazing determination, entrepreneurship and friendly manner. When he sets a goal, my advice is to step out of the way. Through Haewoon, I’ve gained access to the fledgling GA environment here. He connected me with Prof. Soo Bog Park, head of Hanseo University’s aviation department. Through that relationship, I’ve become a Korean licensed commercial pilot with instructor pilot privileges. The Korea certifications have allowed me to bring aerobatic training to Hanseo University’s flight department and help initiate a very early stage IAC based aerobatic interest group using the University’s EA330LT. Haewoon Lee has indeed planted the GA seed and it continues to grow. I think the pace of growth is beginning to accelerate. It’s going to be fun watching the progress.

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