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MONGOLIA enters new era with 737
With its new airplane, the Asian country’s national carrier could give the nation’s tourism efforts a big boost
When Mongolian Airlines took delivery of a 737-800 this past summer, it wasn’t just an airplane they were receiving—it was a new way of life.
Only a decade after emerging from the shadow of communism, Mongolia has now opened to the world. Historically a nation heavily reliant on agriculture, several harsh winters have seriously damaged Mongolia’s economy. In these struggling times, tourism has emerged as a bright spot—growing 20 percent in the last year alone.
“That’s where Mongolian Airlines’ new 737-800 is making a difference,” said John Bruns, sales director–Asia Pacific Sales for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “The capabilities of the 737-800 are expected to help sustain that kind of growth by opening up new routes and providing better service to key markets such as Japan, China and Korea.” The GATX Capital-leased jetliner, the country’s first “new” airplane ever, replaces 30-year-old 727s that limited the carrier’s markets.
Diamond in the rough
Deep in the heart of Central Asia, Mongolia may be one of the best-kept travel secrets. After all, it’s a nation that’s twice the size of Texas with only 2.5 million inhabitants.
“Mongolia today is probably what the United States looked like 150 years ago, when much of America was still untouched,” said Carolyn Corvi, vice president and general manager of the 737/757 airplane programs. Corvi and Bruns were among the Boeing contingent Mongolian Airlines invited to the delivery celebration in Ulaan Baatar, the capital city where the airline is based. It is also where one-third of Mongolia’s population lives.
Mongolia’s vast open spaces make it an ideal playground for adventure seekers. Exploring the Gobi Desert for dinosaur fossils, visiting ancient Buddhist monasteries, and hiking and fishing on camping expeditions to unspoiled rivers and lakes are among the more popular activities for visitors.
Getting there can be part of the adventure, too. Roads are few, and access to many locations is limited to helicopter, jeep or horseback.
Travel on horseback is a way of life in Mongolia and has been for thousands of years. Genghis Khan, the great Mongol warrior, built the biggest land empire in history with the horse as the backbone of his army.
Today, the horse remains central to life for the nomadic herders who live off the vast grasslands known as the steppe. These spirited, tough animals, the size of ponies, are the product of the harsh climate in Mongolia.
“So ingrained is the horse in the Mongolian culture that songs about horses are sung and children learn to ride before they can walk,” said Corvi. “Look closely at the livery for Mongolian Airlines and what do you see? A horse.”
Whether on horseback or on foot, in Mongolia most life depends on the steppe. In contrast to the country’s sparse population, there are approximately three million horses, six million cows, 10 million sheep and 12 million goats.
When the grass in one place has been cropped, herders simply dismantle their dwellings—round tents called gers—and move to another place. It’s an efficient process, due in part to the basic or frugal nature of their household belongings: several cots, stools, a low table, a cooking stove, a leather bag to hold fermented horse milk called koumiss, and perhaps a couple of saddles.
The warmth and hospitality of the Mongolian people is legendary. It’s not uncommon for families to open up their gers and offer hot tea to travelers even when they’re not at home. “Few other nations approach the dawn of a new era holding so true to tradition,” Bruns said.
These are traditions that most likely will continue to withstand the tests of time. And they are what will continue to draw more people to visit Mongolia as the 737 helps connect Mongolia to the world.
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