US embassy cable - 88BEIJING25961

CIVAIR: AIR MONGOLIA - THE "DO IT YOURSELF" - AIRLINE

Identifier: 88BEIJING25961
Wikileaks: View 88BEIJING25961 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Beijing
Created: 1988-09-01 23:57:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: EAIR CH MG OTRA ATRN
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE

ACTION EB-00
INFO LOG-00 ADS-00 INR-10 EUR-00 SS-00 CIAE-00 DODE-00
H-01 NSAE-00 COME-00 L-03 EAP-00 FAAE-00 DOTE-00
STR-17 INRE-00 OCS-06 CA-02 USIE-00 JUSE-00 DS-01
E-01 /041 W

R 012357Z SEP 88
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 8448
AMEMBASSY ULAANBATAAR POUCH)
INFO AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
AMCONSUL SHANGHAI
AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU
AMCONSUL CHENGDU
AMCONSUL SHENYANG
UNCLASSIFIED BEIJING 25961 
 
The original message was classified Limited Official Use 
 
E.O. 12356: N/A 
TAGS: EAIR, CH, MG, OTRA, ATRN 
SUBJECT: CIVAIR: AIR MONGOLIA - THE "DO IT YOURSELF" 
- AIRLINE 
 
1. SUMMARY: THE RECENTLY INAUGURATED WEEKLY AIR 
MONGOLIA NON-STOP SERVICE BETWEEN ULAANBATAAR (U-B) 
AND BEIJING APPEARED TO US, AT FIRST BLUSH, TO BE 
SOMETHING ALONG THE LINES OF MANNA FROM HEAVEN. 
PRIOR TO THE EXISTENCE OF THIS FLIGHT, TRAVEL BETWEEN 
BEIJING AND U-B REQUIRED A 36 HOUR (ONE-WAY) TRAIN 
RIDE. THE EMBASSY'S EFFORTS TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF 
THIS FLIGHT, BOTH IN SUPPORT OF EMBASSY U-B AND TO 
FACILITATE TRAVEL OF DELEGATIONS TO U-B, HAVE 
ACHIEVED MIXED RESULTS, AT BEST. WE CANVASSED LOCAL 
AMMRICAN BUSINESSMEN TO FIND THAT THEY TOO REGARD THE 
FLIGHT WITH SOME TREPIDATION. A TELEPHONE CALL TO THE 
MONGOLIAN EMBASSY IN BEIJING REVEALED THAT 
ALTHOUGH THEIR AMBASSADOR MOONLIGHTS AS THE AIR 
MONGOLIA REPRESENTATIVE, HE IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR 
COMMENT ON THE AIR SERVICE. END SUMMARY. 
 
2. IN EARLY JUNE THE EMBASSY ATTEMPTED TO DESPATCH 
OUR FIRST OFFICIAL TRAVELER, THE RSO, VIA AIR 
MONGOLIA TO U-B ON A POUCH RUN. THE RSO ARRIVED AT 
BEIJING AIRPORT OVER TWO HOURS AHEAD OF THE SCHEDULED 
DEPARTURE TIME. UNABLE TO FIND ANYONE TO CHECK HIS 
LUGGAGE THROUGH TO U-B, THE RSO MANAGED TO OBTAIN A 
BOARDING PASS AND PROCEEDED TO THE INTERNATIONAL 
DEPARTURE AREA. HE WAS ASSURED THAT HE WOULD BE 
CALLED WHEN THE FLIGHT WAS READY TO DEPART. IN THE 
WAITING LOUNGE, THE RSO ENCOUNTERED SEVERAL TOURISTS 
ALSO WAITING FOR THE FLIGHT TO U-B, AND THE GROUP 
DECIDED TO WAIT TOGETHER. AS THE DEPARTURE TIME 
APPROACHED, THE RSO BECAME CONCERNED AND MADE 
INQUIRIES OF THE AIRPORT STAFF; HE WAS TOLD THAT THE 
PLANE WOULD TAKE OFF "SOON". ALMOST AN HOUR AFTER 
THE DEPARTURE TIME, THE RSO AGAIN ASKED ABOUT THE 
FLIGHT; HE WAS INFORMED THAT THE AIRCRAFT HAD ALREADY 
TAKEN OFF WITHOUT PASSENGERS OR CARGO. THE TOWER 
TRIED TO CALL THE PLANE BACK WITHOUT SUCCESS; IT WAS 
ONLY LATER WHEN FACILITATING THE TRAVEL OF TWO 
DELEGATIONS TO U-B IN AUGUST THAT WE BEGAN TO 
UNDERSTAND SOME OF THE PROBLEMS FACING AIR MONGOLIA. 
 
3. ON AUGUST 22, TWO EMBASSY ECON OFFICERS 
ACCOMPANIED CODEL DORNAN AND STAFFDEL OLIN TO CAPITAL 
AIRPORT TO ASSIST THEM IN CHECK-IN AND BOARDING FOR 
AIR MONGOLIA (OM) FLIGHT 152 TO U-B. ALTHOUGH MOST 
AIRPORT PERSONNEL REPLIED ONLY WITH QUIZZICAL LOOKS 
WHEN ASKED WHERE TO BOARD THE FLIGHT TO MONGOLIA, 
ECONOFFS WERE ABLE TO FIND THE DESIGNATED DEPARTURE 
GATE (RIGHT NEXT TO A FLIGHT TO PYONGYANG) WELL 
BEFORE THE SCHEDULED 17:10 DEPARTURE TIME. (THERE 
WAS A BRIEF HOLD-UP WHEN AIRPORT PERSONNEL DISCOVERED 
THAT THEY HAD GIVEN THE CODEL AND STAFFDEL BOARDING 
PASSES FOR THE NORTH KOREAN AIRLINES FLIGHT TO 
PYONGYANG, BUT THIS WAS QUICKLY RESOLVED.) HOWEVER, 
AS 17:10 CAME AND WENT, THERE WAS NO SIGN OF EITHER 
THE AIR MONGOLIA PLANE OR ITS FLIGHT CREW. AFTER 
ASKING THE AIRPORT PERSONNEL ABOUT THE STATUS OF 
FLIGHT OM 152, WE WERE TOLD THAT IT HAD JUST BEEN 
CANCELLED. NO REASON WAS GIVEN FOR THE CANCELLATION 
AND ECONOFFS WERE NOT ABLE TO CONFIRM THAT THE PLANE 
HAD ACTUALLY ARRIVED FROM MONGOLIA. THE ONLY 
INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN WERE TO TRY AGAIN TOMORROW AT 
9:00. 
 
4. BY THIS TIME, THE TWO DELEGATIONS HAD MET THE 
ONLY OTHER PASSENGERS WAITING FOR OM 152, FOUR 
AMERICAN BIG GAME HUNTERS GOING TO MONGOLIA FOR SHEEP 
HUNTING. NO ONE IN THE HUNTING GROUP SPOKE CHINESE, 
SO THEY JOINED UP WITH THE EMBASSY GROUP AND STARTED 
THE PROCESS OF LEAVING THE AIRPORT. SINCE EVERYONE 
HAD ALREADY BEEN STAMPED OUT OF CHINESE EMIGRATION, 
THEY HAD TO HAVE THEIR EXIT STAMPS CANCELLED. THE 
GROUPS' EFFORTS TO RECOVER THEIR LUGGAGE WERE 
UNSUCCESSFUL, AS AIRPORT PERSONNEL TOLD THE GROUPS, 
"YOU DON'T NEED IT". 
 
5. AT 8:00 ON AUGUST 23, ECONOFF AGAIN HAD THE TWO 
DELEGATIONS AT THE DESIGNATED GATE READY TO DEPART ON 
FLIGHT OM 152. IN ADDITION TO THE TWO DELEGATIONS 
AND THE AMERICAN BIG GAME HUNTERS, THERE WERE ALSO 
ABOUT 10 JAPANESE TOURISTS WAITING FOR THE PLANE. 
(HOW DID THEY KNOW NOT TO SHOW UP FOR THE FLIGHT THE 
DAY BEFORE?) AIRPORT PERSONNEL ASSURED THE GROUP 
THAT THE FLIGHT HAD NOT YET ARRIVED FROM U-B, BUT WAS 
STILL EXPECTED TO DEPART AT 9:00. THE GROUP CALMLY 
WAITED. 
 
6. AS 9:00 CAME AND WENT, ECONOFF STARTED TO PANIC. 
REMEMBERING EMBASSY RSO'S STORY, HE FEARED THAT THE 
TWO DELEGATIONS WOULD BE STRANDED. AT ABOUT THIS 
TIME, STAFFDEL OLIN AND ONE OF THE JAPANESE TOURISTS 
SPOTTED A SMALL TWIN ENGINE PLAN ON THE FAR SIDE OF 
THE TARMAC. AS NO ONE WAS ABLE TO IDENTIFY THIS 
PLANE AND THE AIRPORT PERSONNEL DENIED ITS EXISTENCE, 
ECONOFF DECIDED THE PLANE WAS PROBABLY OM 152, 
PREPARING FOR DEPARTURE. EXERCISING THE PRIVILEGES 
OF THE EMBASSY'S AIRPORT PASS, HE WALKED ACROSS THE 
TARMAC TO THE PLANE. THE PLANE, AN AN-24/PB, WAS THE 
AIR MONGOLIA FLIGHT. AFTER A BRIEF DISCUSSION WITH 
THE MONGOLIAN FLIGHT CREW, ECONOFF DISCOVERED THAT 
THEY SPOKE NEITHER OF HIS LANGUAGES - CHINESE OR 
ENGLISH - ONLY RUSSIAN AND MONGOLIAN. HOWEVER, 
THROUGH GESTURES AND NODS, ECONOFF WAS ABLE TO 
DETERMINE THAT THE PILOT WAS WAITING ON FUEL, 
PASSENGERS, AND BAGGAGE. BECAUSE THE MONGOLIANS 
COULD NOT COMMUNICATE WITH THE AIRPORT PERSONNEL, 
THEY DID NOT KNOW HOW TO GET ANY OF THESE. 
 
7. AS EVERYTHING WAS RUNNING LATE AND THE MONGOLIANS 
SEEMED TO HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO GET WHAT THEY NEEDED, 
ECONOFF BORROWED THE BICYCLE OF ONE THE CHINESE 
AIRPORT STAFF AND WENT IN SEARCH OF FUEL, PASSENGERS 
AND BAGGAGE. FUEL WAS RELATIVELY EASILY FOUND AND 
DELIVERED TO THE PLANE. A BUS TO TRANSPORT 
PASSENGERS WAS MORE DIFFICULT. SINCE THE CHINESE 
AIRPORT PERSONNEL CONTINUED TO DENY THE EXISTENCE OF 
THE MONGOLIAN PLANE, THEY SAW NO REASON TO SEND A 
VEHICLE TO TRANSPORT THE PASSENGERS TO THE PLANE. 
AFTER A SHORT ARGUMENT AND ANOTHER BIKE RIDE ACROSS 
THE TARMAC, ECONOFF WAS ABLE TO CONVINCE THE AIRPORT 
STAFF THAT THE PLANE HAD ARRIVED AND THAT THE 
PASSENGERS SHOULD BE SENT OUT. AFTER A SLIGHTLY 
LONGER DISCUSSION THE AIRPORT STAFF AGREED TO SEARCH 
FOR THE BAGGAGE FOR THE PLANE. 
 
8. EVENTUALLY, ABOUT 17 HOURS BEHIND SCHEDULE, 
ECONOFF (ON A BIKE) AND DELEGATIONS (IN A BUS) 
ARRIVED AT THE FUELED-UP PLANE. THE BAGGAGE ARRIVED 
SHORTLY AFTER. A SHORT ARGUMENT BROKE OUT BETWEEN 
THE MONGOLIAN FLIGHT CREW AND THE CHINESE BAGGAGE 
HANDLERS; BUT, SINCE THE MONGOLIANS SPOKE ONLY IN 
MONGOLIAN AND RUSSIAN AND THE CHINESE ONLY IN 
CHINESE, IT IS DIFFICULT TO SAY WHAT WAS DISCUSSED. 
FINALLY, AT 10:25, FLIGHT OM 152 TOOK OFF FOR U-B. 
(ONE OF THE TRAVELERS LATER REPORTED THAT IN-FLIGHT 
SERVICE CONSISTED OF A STEWARDESS IN BLACK FISHNET 
STOCKINGS, A CHOICE OF BAD WINE OR VODKA, AND AN 
ANNOUNCEMENT -- SOMEWHERE DURING THE MIDDLE OF THE 
CIRCA TWO HOUR FLIGHT -- THAT THE PLANE WAS "SEVEN 
MINUTES FROM THE MONGOLIAN BORDER".) 
 
9. OF THE AMERICAN BUSINESSMEN WHO ATTEMPTED TO FLY 
OR TO SHIP CARGO VIA AIR MONGOLIA TO U-B, THOSE WHO 
DISCUSSED THEIR EFFORTS WITH THE EMBASSY REPORTED A 
ONE HUNDRED PERCENT FAILURE RATE. CARGO, IN 
PARTICULAR, SEEMS TO BE DIFFICULT TO SHIP TO U-B. 
THE MONGOLIAN FLIGHT CREWS CANNOT READ THE 
ENGLISH/CHINESE CARGO MANIFESTS AND FREQUENTLY REFUSE 
TO ACCEPT THE BILLS OF LADING; THEY ARE UNABLE TO 
ASCERTAIN FROM THE CHINESE (DUE TO THE AFOREMENTIONED 
LANGUAGE BARRIER) WHETHER THERE IS CARGO TO BE 
SHIPPED; OR THE CHINESE REFUSE TO LOAD THE CARGO 
(ACCORDING TO ONE U.S. BUSINESSMAN) UNTIL AIR 
MONGOLIA PAYS SOME OF ITS LANDING AND GROUND HANDLING 
BILLS. THE SAME BUSINESSMAN COMMENTED THAT IN HIS 
(ADMITTEDLY BRIEF) EXPERIENCE, IT IS NOT UNUSUAL FOR 
AIR MONGOLIA TO DROP OFF PASSENGERS FOR BEIJING AND 
IMMEDIATELY TAKE OFF AGAIN (WITHOUT A RETURN LOAD) IN 
ORDER TO AVOID CHINESE AIRPORT OFFICIALS WITH DUNNING 
NOTICES. 
 
10. ECONOFF CONTACTED THE MONGOLIAN EMBASSY TO LEARN 
THEIR SIDE OF THE STORY AND TO REQUEST A BRIEFING ON 
THE STATUS OF THE MONGOLIA-PRC CIVIL AIR TREATY. 
AFTER SOME DISCUSSION, THE MONGOLIAN EMBASSY OFFICER 
ADMITTED THAT THEIR AMBASSADOR ALSO SERVED (CLEARLY, 
IN HIS SPARE TIME) AS THE AIR MONGOLIA REPRESENTATIVE 
IN BEIJING, BUT WAS NOT AVAILABLE FOR COMMENT ON THE 
AIR SERVICE. THE MONGOLIAN DIPLOMAT SAID THAT HE WAS 
NOT FAMILIAR WITH THE EXISTENCE OF A CIVIL AIR TREATY 
BETWEEN MONGOLIA AND THE PRC, BUT WOULD BE HAPPY TO 
INVESTIGATE AND ADVISE FURTHER. HE FINALLY REFERRED 
ALL OF ECONOFF'S QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE AIR SERVICE 
TO THE MAIN OFFICE OF THE CIVIL AVIATION 
ADMINISTRATION OF CHINA (CAAC) WHICH SERVES AS AIR 
MONGOLIA'S AGENT IN CHINA. 
 
LORD 
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE 
NNNN 

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