Virgin Atlantic A340-313 G-VFAR Phoenix 11175 1:400 October 2015

wfu September 2014, this picture of G-VFAR was taken at Heathrow by me from the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse garden on top of Terminal 3 on June 27th 2014. it was misty, windy and raining!
wfu September 2014, this picture of G-VFAR was taken at Heathrow by me from the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse garden on top of Terminal 3 on June 27th 2014. It was misty, windy and raining!

In some ways this is a goodbye model. In October 2014 Virgin Atlantic announced in a press release that it was phasing out its Heathrow 744’s by June 2016 and all of its remaining A343’s by October 2015. In reality the 744’s will be gone by the middle of February 2016 – we’ve already seen the end of G-VFAB and today (23 Oct)                G-VWOW was retired, and this week on the 24th/25th sees the final flight, after 21 years of 744’s to SFO and their replacement by 787-9’s. The A343’s were retired back in March.

G-VFAR front, G-VELD rear. the differences on identical aircraft are staggering. G-VELD was major research and colour fail
G-VFAR front, G-VELD rear. the differences on identical aircraft are staggering. G-VELD was a major research and colour fail

Phoenix did a version of the A343, G-VELD back in 2012 and got it horribly wrong. It’s silver with the old red but current billboard font.  This new one was a must have because it continues Phoenix’s use of the correct paint schemes and colours.

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G-VFAR was delivered in June 1998, and named Diana, after the Princess of Wales who had died 10 months before. ‘Diana’ was re-named ‘Molly’ in 2010, when she received the new ‘billboard’ livery. The last of ten, in an age when four engines were still considered the right thing – despite growing clarity from many airlines the way forward was actually big twin engined aircraft like the 777.

None the less Virgin Atlantic, who later came to use the rather pathetic self-justifying, ‘four for the long haul’ strap line in their advertising, as more and more airlines followed the twin engine path were committed to the cause of four. As fuel spiked alarmingly in price during 2008, Virgin Atlantic found itself with new A346’s, middle aged A343’s and middle to ancient 744’s all with four engines and crippling fuel use. Follow that with a recession and in some ways it’s a miracle the airline even survived.

It didn’t take it too long to see the error of its ways and it converted A346 orders with Airbus to A333’s – although this was only after it became apparent the 787 was going to be delayed by as much as 5 years. They’d wisely ordered 17 of them with options for 5 more – those aircraft are arriving regularly, the first has already been in service a year and are seen as crucial to the airlines survival and profitability. In the meantime they have the benefit of lower fuel prices, making it easier to run the A346’s until 2018/19 when they too will finally be retired.

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So what of this model?  At first I was looking hopeful that we had a winner. We don’t have that by any means.

Superficially it’s all there and the casual observer will notice nothing untoward. You know me well enough to know that I’ll not take failure lightly, especially on my favourite airline. So lets get down to business….

1)Fuselage

The mould is fine and I have no issues with it. The same paint that has been used on G-VNEW, G-VGAS and now this model, is consistent. Graphic quality and general print are very good – not excellent, but very good. The aubergine logo is correct for colour but in places its print quality is iffy, though far from bad.

The forward and centre antennae are not correctly fitted
The forward and centre antennae are not correctly fitted

The worst issues are the forward and centre aerials. I hate these aerials, I wish they had never ever bothered with them, they’ve been a point of problems on almost every model. They either don’t stay on, are fitted poorly or the paint is rubbish or some combination of all three. On this they are incorrectly seated and tilt left (from the front view). The rearmost is fine. They look stupid, but worse still they are so heavily fixed in they can’t be moved to repair them.

There is also a mark – paint – between the ‘n’ and ‘a’ in Virgin Atlantic and near the door on the forward starboard side. It’s not meant to be there and is quite noticeable.

The stand hole is not brilliant, it’s quite hard to get a thin armed stand to fit it.

2) Wings and landing gear

The wings are actually attached! However not very well. The starboard wing has a gap that while not cavernous is still too much, and far from a close fit to the fuselage. The port side fits closely but has a horrendous and visible glue issue above and below where the wing is fitted. it’s almost like they’ve made an effort to fix the problem that A340/A330 models across the board seem to have, by shoving the wing in so hard the other side comes out and glue splurges everywhere.

1400ReviewsA343G-VFAR-VS-Phnx-CpyWrtJonChamps 10What has happened to the landing gear? “I know”, said someone at Phoenix, “let’s use the brightest Christmas tree silver we can find and splash it all over the gear! And while we’re doing that why not make sure the middle gear is so wonkily fitted the left wheel doesn’t touch the ground! Oh and don’t forget to use the lumpiest rubber tyres on the nose gear you can find.” And that’s exactly what they did, but in Chinese.

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At least this time the gear doors are not rotting pieces of blobby zinc with no paint. We should be grateful for small mercies. When they build a Chinese designed nuclear reactor in Essex (really, that’s what they are going to do), lets just hope nobody from the Phoenix factory has anything to do with it. In fact lets hope nobody from China has anything to do with it and it never happens!

The wheels, Phoenix, are meant to touch the ground!
The wheels, Phoenix, are meant to touch the ground!

The other thing about the wings is what happened to the surface detail? Have we taken to just pouring over paint until it fills every nook and cranny so all detail in the mould is utterly obscured? It’s not icing on a cake you know Phoenix, you don’t have to cover over the detail for uniformity and finish!

3) Engines

Some people call them hair dryers, as the 4x CFMI CFM56-5C4’s were little different to those fitted on A320’s and were underpowered to create a fake level of fuel efficiency. Their shape is also rather simple and looks like a blow heater.

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The A346 is not dissimilar in dynamic profile. As an example the A340 series at 75 miles from take off are at 15,000ft when a 744 at the same point would be at 25,000. A340’s of all hues use up almost all of the runway on take off. Yet when flying at cruise they were quiet and just as fast.

Of all the elements on this model these are probably the best. So little detail means there is little to go wrong. The intake silver is good, not excellent but the paint colour is superb. Generally though, over all, very good.

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4) Tail and stabilisers

The port stabiliser was loose and not fitted properly. The red paint over the glue does little to disguise it along the join of the fin. Shoddy.

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5) Nose detail

Actually very good. The flight deck is particularly neat as is the flying lady.

6) Colour

Absolutely spot on, the scheme they’ve been using this year is excellent and they should continue to do this with all Virgin Atlantic models in this livery. If Phoenix achieved anything this year, getting this right is it.

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7) Score and conclusions

-10 for the stabiliser loose, -10 for the wing gaps and glue, -5 for the wonky middle gear, and overpainted grossly silver gear in general, -6 for the appallingly fitted aerials.  So 69%.

How to screw up good model – give it to Phoenix to build. That’s what this proves all over again. The A340/A330 series have serious wing root mould issues, quality control is at best rudimentary. It just isn’t good enough. Phoenix have nothing to be proud of here, other than getting the colours right.

Let me make it perfectly clear. The only time I will ever buy another Phoenix Airbus A340/330 again is if it’s a standard livery Lufthansa A346 or a Virgin Atlantic. No exceptions. Their QC has just gone out of the window and this company doesn’t deserve my custom for this range of aircraft again.

My recommendation is unless you simply must have it, don’t buy Phoenix A340/A330’s – they have proven consistently unreliable, poor quality and are not value for money. If you got a good one, then you’re lucky.

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