Ko and Lan pilot Boeing 767s from Honolulu and Miami.
By Hilary Reeves
Hongchul An (Ko) and Ran An (Lan) have many things in common: they were both born and raised in Tokyo, emigrating to the United States as teenagers. Both traveled internationally as children and showed an early interest in aviation. Both became pilots and worked as flight instructors and corporate charter pilots. But this husband-and-wife team – who were introduced by a mutual friend, have a combined 38 years of experience, and now both pilot Boeing 767s for Northern Air Cargo (NAC) – achieved their dreams via very different paths.
According to Ko, most of the students attending his elementary and middle schools in Japan were into “robots” and “heroes” – but not him.
“I was really into transportation: trucks, buses, trains, and airplanes,” he said. “Especially airplanes because I used to travel a lot with my family. Airplanes became something special for me when a pilot took me inside the cockpit during a flight to show me a sunrise. It was a very inspiring experience, and I decided from that day on that I was going to be a pilot.”
“I decided – with the support of my family – to attend high school in Arizona, mainly to learn English. I chose Arizona because there wasn’t a large Japanese population – that was very important for me because I didn’t want to depend on other Japanese people when I was trying to learn English.”-Ko
Ko could have become a pilot in Japan, but he wanted to fly in the United States because the pilot who had shown him the sunrise from the cockpit was with Northwest Airlines.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy path, especially with the language barrier,” he said. “I decided – with the support of my family – to attend high school in Arizona, mainly to learn English. I chose Arizona because there wasn’t a large Japanese population – that was very important for me because I didn’t want to depend on other Japanese people when I was trying to learn English.”
Ko went on to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, graduating and earning his pilot license. His first job was as a flight instructor in Massachusetts. The real challenge at that time in his life, he said, was obtaining his Permanent Resident Card, better known as a “Green Card.”
“I had to find a sponsor operator, which is required by immigration law,” he explained. “Coming straight out of college, I didn’t have much flying experience. ‘No experience, no job,’ everyone would say, and of course, I couldn’t get any experience without a job. So I drove to the area I wanted to live and visited all of the local flight schools and charter operators. Eventually, I found a flight school/charter operator who was willing to sponsor me for a work visa and my Green Card. The whole process took me about eight years.”
A long road, but Ko build his flight experience on Kingair, Learjet, Challenger, and Falcon planes in the meantime.
“Flying some of the wealthiest people all over the world on very high-tech jets was absolutely exciting and interesting, but I felt like I had reached the pinnacle of charter flying and wanted to fly something bigger, like the commercial jet I saw the sunrise from.”
Ko began flying a Boeing 737 for a cargo outfit in Hawaii. Over the course of about a year, he logged 121 flights as pilot of the big jet. He learned Aloha Air Cargo was accepting pilot applications, and both he and Lan applied.
“We were both able to get the job as 737 first officers,” he said. “We loved the job and being supported and surrounded by wonderful people at Aloha.”
Lan spent her elementary years traveling between Japan and Cincinnati, Ohio, where her father worked.
“My family spent a lot of time traveling during my childhood days, and we always flew out of Narita International Airport,” she said. “I remember being excited at the airport for every trip. I grew interested in aviation during those years. After graduating high school in Japan, I decided to enter Aviation College in Cincinnati and started flying.”
After working as a flight instructor in the Boston area, Lan began working at a charter company in Hawaii, where there was a need for Japanese-speaking pilots. She met a corporate owner on the job and began flying for a corporation out of South America. Four years later, she was ready for a break.
“I took few years off, but prior 737 experience landed me my first cargo job in Hawaii, which eventually gave me the experience to fly for Aloha,” she said. “Ko and I both took the opportunity to fly a heavy jet, which had been one of our goals. I think flying an airplane is pure fun. I enjoy working out challenges with the crew, looking at how different pilots face each task, and to this day, I haven`t had a ‘perfect’ flight. I try to learn something new during every flight and look forward to future accomplishments. The hardest thing for me has been prioritizing my family, taking time to live my life, and working towards my career.”
The addition of Boeing 767s to Aloha and its sister companies’ fleet provided an opportunity for Ko and Lan to each fly the 767 aircraft out of Honolulu. They also spend 17 days every month in Miami.
“All of the Honolulu-based B767 pilots are assigned to do temporary flight assignments out of Miami for 17 days every month,” where Aloha sister company StratAir is based, Ko explained. “During those 17 days, we’re on call, so we just fly to wherever and whenever the company needs us to.”
“We deal with constant changes of schedule by the hour everyday between reserves, flights, and delays,” Lan echoed. “I try to get as much rest as I can during that time.”
“It was natural to offer to help at a time when flying an airplane meant more than just transporting cargo.”-Lan
Ko and Lan were both in Miami on Sept. 3, 2019, when Hurricane Dorian came to call.
“I was actually assigned to go back to Hawaii a few days before the hurricane’s landfall in Florida, but my flight scheduler called me to ask if I was willing to help the company conduct rescue flights,” he said. “I thought it would work out great for the company and us, too, as I’d never flown with my wife before. Flying with her was a fun experience, and I was glad to hear that no substantial damage was reported in Miami from the hurricane. I’m thankful for the great opportunity that the company provided us.”
“It was natural to offer to help at a time when flying an airplane meant more than just transporting cargo,” said Lan. “The more I work with my fellow pilots and coworkers at NAC, Aloha, and StratAir, the more I understand what ‘Aloha’ spirit is. I hope the mix of cultures adds up to a positive effect.”
Hawaii is home
Ko and Lan are based in Hawaii, and enjoy relaxing there – especially snorkeling, Ko’s “happy place.”
“One hobby of mine is designing logos for airlines,” said Ko. “I enjoy creating designs featuring the company I fly for – it would be really exciting to see my designs on an actual airplane someday.”
Ko is also designing a suitcase made from airplane parts.
suitcase has gotten beat up pretty hard over just a couple of years. I’d like
to design a strong, user-friendly, stylish suitcase using recycled airplane
Lan is interested in new opportunities to expand aviation education.
“I want to spend time introducing fun activities, volunteer work, and products related to airplanes – collaborating with other professionals – for local kids and grownups to enjoy,” she said.
“We became pilots because we loved flying, but, interestingly enough, staying home with our family has become our top priority as the flying experience accumulates,” Ko concluded. “But to this day, I still love the spectacular view from the cockpit, especially during sunrise. It never gets old.”