Air France Airbus A318 F-GUGD Herpa 1:400 562232 2011

Air France, once glorious now an ageing and geriatric airline, whose staff refuse to change and whose cost cutting measures have trashed their short haul fleet and services, though some of the newer long haul aircraft are pretty special, mostly just the A380’s. It’s an airline in deep trouble and its partner KLM is outperforming it across the board. Air France has the worst cost base of any airline in Europe, the lowest productivity and worst industrial relations. Staff just do not seem to understand the free ride is long over and management seem to over emphasise the disastrous situation and not accept they are as much to blame. One minute they are cutting nearly 2900 jobs, four days later its only a 1000. No wonder nobody has any confidence.

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This model, one of Herpa’s few adventures of recent years into 1:400, which seem to have become even more infrequent of late, (the Bombardier CS100 in Swiss livery is due for delivery fairly soon though), was produced in 2011.

A318’s  are the smallest of the A320 series and in many ways the oddest looking. The huge tail fin (750mm (29.52″) taller than the A320), looks somewhat incongruous, but as many of you will know, the shorter the fuselage length the taller the tail needs to be on this type of design. She only has three doors each side and one of those is only an emergency over-wing exit.

Air France took delivery of 18 of them between 2003 and 2007 the largest single customer, F-GUGD is a 2003 example, but painted in the new livery post merger with KLM on this model. Interestingly Frontier were the first customer but all of theirs have been scraped. 18 A318’s went to corporate and government use, 2 to unknown buyers, 2 to BA (they operate the London City to JFK route via Shannon outbound), Avianca Brazil had 15, Avianca Colombia 10, and Romania’s Tarom 4.

It was intended to be a regional jet competitor but 9/11 and the recession that followed, then the financial melt down of 2008-9 wrecked any chance of it being competitive, along with a dubious set of engines that were considered over-powered and burnt too much fuel.

This was a ridiculously expensive model for what it is, usually retailing at around £34 and never seriously discounted as margins on Herpa are very tight. £34 ($53US) meant I left it ages to buy it and eventually succumbed in late 2012 – it didn’t exactly fly off the shelves. One of Herpa’s biggest failings is that they don’t provide stand holes so it’s a ground based aircraft like it or not.

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Neat and tidy as moulds go with a shape that I think at the nose, is one of the A320 series best in 1:400. The issues are small, a lilt bit light on definition if you look closely, but it’s more than passable on a model of this size.

2) Wings and landing gear

These are a cradle mould and it suffers from a lack of fit at the rear join, but otherwise is relatively neat. The wings are metal (Herpa regularly use a lot of plastic), and the print, paint and finish are generally excellent. Indeed Herpa could teach Gemini and especially Phoenix a lesson on how to apply wing paint.

The landing gear is often a weak spot on Herpa 1:400’s – tyres vanish with alarming regularity and this was no exception, resulting in the nose gear pair having to be glued on.

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3) Engines

2 CFM56-5B8/P were fitted although later models for other airlines often had the more fuel efficient P&W. The details including the AF Crevette (French for shrimp), on the engines are all present. The rims are a little rough and visibly so, but not catastrophic by any means. The inner paint for the fans is a decent titanium colour.

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4) Nose detail

No issues for me.

5) Tail detail

There is nothing wrong with the detail. The issue, and it’s a sad and annoying one is the huge tail is bent. Apparently quite common on this model I’m told. It isn’t even that it isn’t fitted quite right and tilts to one side, it’s actually very slightly physically bent as well. Until you look at it head on, especially from the top you wouldn’t know from the side. I have tentatively tried to remove it but the damage to the fuselage paint that would result wasn’t worth it.

This is to show how bad the tail alignment actually is. Quite unfixable. My tardiness in buying it meant a replacement wasn't possible.
This is to show how bad the tail alignment actually is. Quite unfixable. My tardiness in buying it meant a replacement wasn’t possible.

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6) Colours

No issues.

7) Score and Conclusions

The tail is a whopping -15, the nose gear wheels -6 but really nothing much else can be said.  So 79% Once upon a time Herpa were one of the greatest model makers in the world. German precision and engineering provided first class but expensive models. Cheap Chinese manufacturering undercut the market and eventually Herpa let the 1:400’s go. In many ways that’s very sad. However if they cannot make models of complete excellence for high prices, but mediocre ones for high prices, then there is no place and they would be best served avoiding the market altogether.

Even this model of the A318 was a re-release as Herpa originally released it in 2005-6 in the old AF livery. The only other A318’s were three Airbus house colours versions made by Dragon Wings, another company that has made a swift exit to the 1:400 departure lounge.

Why have Herpa bothered with for example, the CS100 as a one off in 1:400? I suspect because they are very Lufthansa-centric and they know that they can produce the Swiss and Lufthansa versions in large enough numbers to make a profit. It’s unlikely Gemini will go down the path – too daring, and JC Wings first attempt simply vanished and only few ever reached customers, the majority allegedly bought up by Bombardier as press gifts.

And that poses another question. When did Gemini or Phoenix last produce a really new aircraft model smaller than the A350? What will happen when COMAC, Bombardier and Mitsubishi start providing ever more aircraft to new customers? Who will make those? The fact that nobody even attempted the amazing Iceland Air Aurora 757 speaks volumes as to what they will and won’t do. Gemini made the E-190 series mould but it wasn’t that brilliant and they’ve barely used it since. A tiny handful of models released when dozens of airlines have them and many of us would love to see them in a multitude of liveries.

If ever there was a time for a new entrant into the 1:400 model making world, this is it.