The first ever nonstop flight from Mongolia to the United States landed at Seattle International Airport on Sunday, June 21st. The flight from Ulaanbaatar to Seattle carried 60,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) worth $1 million. The PPE was donated by the Government of Mongolia to the people of the Navajo Nation indigenous community in Arizona and Nevada, to assist in their efforts to stem the COVID-19 outbreak. On the way back, the charter flight repatriated Mongolian citizens who were stranded in the United States due to travel restrictions.
The Navajo Nation, with 180,000 residents across New Mexico, Arizona and Utah has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the infection rate in the Navajo Nation surpassed that of New York, considered an epicenter of the pandemic at that time. The Navajo land saw more infections per capita than anywhere else in the United States.
Mongolia suspended all international flights, passenger rail, and auto traffic to and from Ulaanbaatar starting in early March of 2020 when COVID-19 was beginning to spread within the Chinese borders. With its decisive preventative measures banning international flights and closing its borders with Russia and China early on, Mongolia is considered one of the most successful countries in confronting the coronavirus, as it has a total of 225 infections (all imported) and no deaths. Even though there has been no community transmission of coronavirus in Mongolia yet due to the strict protocols of suspending air travel, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia reported that there are 11,700 Mongolian citizens who are stranded abroad and have requested repatriation. Of the stranded nationals, most are facing financial hardship due to the outbreak, including students, elderly, children and pregnant women. Fortunately, the Seattle to Ulaanbaatar flight was able to take 255 of these citizens home.
In early 2019, MIAT Mongolian Airlines applied for permission to launch scheduled passenger services between Mongolia and the United States with the US Department of Transportation. The airline is scheduled to receive its first Boeing 787-9 in 2021 on a long-term lease. This will enable the carrier’s first long-haul flights to the United States.
Khaliun Ganbaatar is a research intern in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa pursuing Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree.