KLM Cargo 747-406FERSCD PH-CKA Gemini Jets GJKLM393 2003

One of the great things about this updated website is the full scheduler. I write and four weeks later up goes the post! This is a retro special, a lament for what is about to pass into history and a reminder, if ever we needed one, that the aviation industry is one of the fastest paced business environments in the world.

Those who fail to adapt are squeezed out, in the end many are only here because of the complex legacy of regulations and international treaties that govern aviation and provide extraordinary protection no other industry would ever be given. You might think that applies especially in the first world, Western Europe and North America. It doesn’t, airlines are rigidly protected even more comprehensively in markets from Japan to China, South Africa, South America and Russia. It may not look or feel like it but the European Union is is in fact the most deregulated airline environment in the world. And thats why this superb airline is suffering so badly.

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KLM was snatched away from British Airways in a counter offer by Air France who offered a merger rather than a buy-out. BA skulked off and bought desperate Iberia, creating IAG. KLM has ended up married to a glamorous but near bankrupt billionaire, whose finances continue to drag it down.

This has been felt especially deeply in the AF-KLM Group’s cargo arm. Cargo is desperately competitive, highly cyclical and formatted into two general types – the express services such as UPS/Fedex/DHL and the soon to be merged away TNT, and the general bulk cargo, operated by specialists like Cargolux, GSS, Lufthansa Cargo, Aero Logic and many, many more. Airline belly services and a host of other carriers have grown exceptionally competitive (the ME3 as much as Cathay Pacific and many others), as huge aircraft like the A380 and 773 have provided ever more space on passenger services that needs to earn it’s keep. BA bought itself out of the 3 748F’s it was using and ended the lease early, returning them to GSS. On the other hand Thai has completely disbanded its cargo arm in the last three months.

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AF-KLM also includes KLM’s subsidiary Martinair – a cargo only outfit. Add that to AF Cargo and KLM Cargo and the group was awash with uncompetitive aircraft in a rapidly shrinking market. Cutbacks were inevitable and even then the market has nose dived, as much as 5-11% per month. While volumes have stabilised, those with the contracts to move the cargo are undercutting AF-KLM so badly, this year they took the decision to slash further. When you’re running a billion dollar loss – in a period of airline boom it has to be added, you need to do something radical.

From 2016, Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo will continue to operate with a mainframe fleet of six Full Freighters (two Boeing 777Fs at Paris Charles De Gaulle and four Boeing 747-400s at Amsterdam Schiphol), supplemented by 15 Boeing 747 Combi’s.  Martinair will operate the four pure 747F’s, AF will operate just the two  777F’s (it withdraws its last 5 744’s from service in January 2016), and the 15 744 Combis will be KLM (15 of the 25 in service).

Pure Cargo 744’s will  no longer be operated by KLM. And that brings us to this 2003 model.

The recent KLM 747-400 95th Anniversary livery model reviewed HERE is a Combi, with a side cargo door. PH-CKA however was built as a freighter with the full nose door and is being moved to Martinair (but keeps the KLM livery).

The majestic KLM Cargo 744F
The majestic KLM Cargo 744F

The Model, The Aircraft

The model was produced around April 2003 – the aircraft was delivered new on March 11th 2003. One of the great things I love about the KLM Cargo livery is the CARGO font, designed to look almost like the old fashioned printed stamps from the days of steam travel by sea. I think it’s a version of Britannic or Braggadocio.

1) Fuselage

The Gemini mould is probably the best 747 and it’s quality is first rate, having more than stood the test of time. The graphics are crisp and clean, the paint is flawless and the detail excellent. These days she has “operated by Martinair” tiles forward and the KLM/Skyteam Cargo logos, but what she carries on the model looks better and is age appropriate.

Other than the additions of aerials she never started with and a comms dome there is very little difference.

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2) Wings and landing gear

A perfectly assembled cradle system with a tight fit and no serious gaps, the wings fit the fuselage exceptionally well and the overall detail is first class. No overpainted detail, just crisp and clean, in fact excellently done.

The landing gear on the outer sets attached to the wings is completely rigid, the wheels do turn and are black heavy duty plastic on spigots. The same wheels are used on the inner set but these are on looser, more flexible suspension arms. The nose gear is fine, the same rather rigid plastic wheels but there is nothing that detracts from the model much. The main issue is the black tyres look too big.

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3) Engines

The four GE CF6-80C2B5F’s are well made. The paint is the main issue, as it was fashionable at the time of manufacture to paint the engine intakes and fans the same bright silver, something Apollo did right up until last year. It looks a bit toy-like. It’s also hard to realise how small these engines are compared to the massive power plants we see on 787, 748 and 777’s these days.

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4) Tail and stabilisers

Flawless and beautifully made. This was a time when Gemini still took huge pride in what they produced.

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5) Nose detail

Superb. Again, a wonderful example of what Gemini used to make.

IMGP8492 - Version 26) Colours

KLM Delft Blue over a dark blue coach line with the light grey beneath. All flawless.

7) Score

It seems almost unfair to score something that’s now 12 years old. However if this was made to this standard now, it would be 100%. It simply shows how much thing have changed.

Values for this model range from £20/$35 to double that. I paid £26/$42 for it on eBay so I consider it a bargain.  It’s a great addition to the KLM fleet at RLSI.