Saturday, May 27, 2017

Life after controversy: Atwater flight school rebuilding after ex-owner’s conviction

Leaders with the Sierra Academy of Aeronautics in Atwater are taking steps to leave financial troubles and legal battles behind and move toward a brighter future by improving education offered at the flight school and bringing in new investors.

Daniel Yoon is the former co-owner of the flight school who last month was sentenced to three years probation after accepting a plea deal to misdemeanor charges of forgery and falsifying documents in the name of his former business partner and current exclusive owner of the flight school and parent company, John Yoon.

Daniel Yoon and John Yoon are not related.

School officials did not mince words discussing their feeling over the departure of their former owner.

“Now that Mr. Dan Yoon is out of the picture, we can move forward with projects like acquiring aircraft, hiring instructors and bringing students back in,” said Bob Deklinsky, a business operations director at the academy.

The academy, also known as KS Aviation, specializes in training commercial pilots from Asia, particularly from China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. The school, located at Castle Commerce Center, currently enrolls about 40 students.

The former business partners engaged in a court battle in which Daniel Yoon was accused of trying to seize control of the flight school while John Yoon recovered from injuries suffered in a 2013 motorcycle crash. The lawsuit is ongoing in Merced County Superior Court.

Efforts to contact Daniel Yoon were unsuccessful.

John Yoon placed much of the blame for the school’s recent troubles squarely on the shoulders of his former business partner.

The academy scrapped about two dozen aircraft that weren’t maintained properly while John Yoon was away from the company.

In January, employees received paychecks more than a week late while John Yoon waited for money from overseas, he said.

Now, the school is in the process of buying brand new planes, said Sanjay Akella, who was recently hired on as the academy’s chief flight instructor.

The school’s reputation with international airlines also sank, along with the quality of education students were receiving, school officials acknowledged.

“Our greatest frustration was we saw that resources and attention were not focused on the future of the school,” said Joshua Daniel, the human resources coordinator.

Hiring Akella demonstrates John Yoon’s focus on churning out quality pilots, he said. Since the beginning of the year, pass rates in classes have more than doubled.

“Sanjay is a really good pilot,” John Yoon said. “In all the world, you can’t find this kind of pilot.”

Daniel said the school received more than 30 letters of recommendation on behalf of Akella.
27/05/17 Brianna Calix/Merced Sun-Star