Air Austral 777-39MER F-OREU Phoenix 11256 May 2016

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Air Austral was founded in 1974 by a Réunion businessman, Gérard Ethève. The island is a fairly remote spot in the southern Indian Ocean – recently parts of Malaysian flight MH370 have been washing up on its beaches. This is one of those French overseas territories, not dissimilar to Tahiti politically, and Air Austral is the islands equivalent of Air Tahiti Nui, 9,767 miles away in the Pacific.  The island is in effect a full part of mainland France and there is no political or administrative difference between it and any other French mainland départment. 

la_reunion_vue_du_ciel06_-_credit_irt_-_serge_gelabert_dts_12_2014The island’s population is close on 900,000 and is often considered a little crowded (it’s only 970 square miles), being mostly volcanic in origin and with few easily habitable areas. The positive side is stunning scenery, amazing beaches and it’s surrounded by coral reefs ideal for diving. With its tropical climate (it sits just a few miles north of the Tropic of Capricorn), it’s an exceptionally popular destination for French tourists because of its all-year warmth, well-developed tourist industry and cultural ties. It’s also a U.N. World Heritage site.

That industry has largely been spearheaded by Air Austral over the years. However in the early 2000’s the airlines management made some poor choices and it began to over-stretch itself, a fact highlighted in 2007 when it ordered two 840 seat economy only A380’s. I don’t think anyone except the airline’s managers ever thought these would be delivered and they were cancelled on 13 April 2016. I suspect they will try and pick up used ones when they become available. In 2012 the airlines founder was removed from office and a wholesale cancelling of routes was undertaken, disposing of non-profitable destinations. To make things worse the airline was unable to pay for a new Boeing 777-200LR.

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The real thing displaying the starboard side tail

Remedial action saved the airline and  it’s now back in profit, wisely leasing rather than buying 2 additional 777-300ER’s to add to its other one. This one is the oldest of the three – I just preferred the tail design, each is unique. This led Phoenix to produce all three at once in the vain hope I suppose, that we would all rush out and buy the lot.  1 of 2 Dreamliners is already in service and Phoenix have already released that, due end of this month (June).

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And the real thing displaying the port side tail

The 777-300ER’s are fitted with a type of business class (Club Austral), 18 in 3 rows of 2 either side of two non-contiguous rows of 3 in the centre. You can book the middle seat of the three for more personal space. There is also a premium economy type called Confort Class, 40 seats in 5 rows of 2-4-2, but separated into two cabins, 3 in the forward cabin, 2 rear. Then the economy Loisir class which is a pretty rammed 3-4-3 experience. Having said that if price is an issue, it costs the same one way – almost 11 hours – as it does for a 50 minute flight from BHX to Paris CDG on a weekday re-bookable fare.

Air Austral is also a member of the new, founded in September 2015, Vanilla Alliance. It may sound like an ice-cream industry trade lobby, but is in fact a group of 5 Indian Ocean Airlines committed to reducing fares, increasing growth and profitability in a difficult area. All the airlines come from countries where vanilla pods are grown!

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I should mention the box as its triple branded for all three of the models, with a tick box to determine which is which.

F-OREU (named Evariste de Parny, a French nobleman and poet born on Réunion), is a 9M build – meaning Malaysia was the original customer, but is leased from ALC, whereas the other two are Q8’s, one leased from MacQuarrie Air Finance and the other from AeroCapital. This is her second livery for the airline, the old one being replaced with the new in September 2014.

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1) Fuselage

The standard white body with excellent quality printed details right across the board. Doors, windows, graphics all look spot on. The three aerials are all perfectly painted and aligned, the red de-icer aerial below is also spot on.

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In all fairness this is beautifully done with no colour bleed and high quality definition. It’s wonderful to have something of such a good quality from Phoenix again. That’s two of the three out of that order reviewed so far, that have proved to be excellent in respect of fuselage detail.

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2) Wings and landing gear

Over glossed wings of course, the under-wing detail is totally obliterated by paint. The upper wings are little better. Phoenix need to rethink this heavy weight gloss paint. It doesn’t need to be so dense, shiny or thickly applied. Having said that they are beautifully made, the over wing escapes are excellent and other markings seem in keeping.

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The landing gear is excellent, rotates and the bogies move, tyres on wheels and only one or two are mildly lumpy. The nose gear is spot on.

3) Engines

Rim and fan colours are excellent. There is a small amount of disturbed silver on the port side lower rim and a chip in the silver inside the engine rim. Annoyingly these engines are so big that the white chip is a bit noticeable. However a small amount of very soft pencil lead I’ve found covers them up enough to make it vastly less visible.

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Other than that the engines are well made, rims reasonably well painted (the silver paint is not particularly fine), and the logo and under-engine detail on the nacelles, along with the exhaust are all excellent.

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4)Nose detail

Flawless. Not often you read that is it? No issues whatsoever.

5)Tail detail

This is the aircraft’s highlight, in some ways it’s a bit odd. The images are not the same either sie. Who would know that or be in a position to see it and appreciate it on a daily basis, I can’t imagine.

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The port side is a rocky coast with sea and waves, the airline’s logo at the top. The port side works well enough though I think it’s a little matt in the finish. The image is also not vivid enough – the flash makes it look a lot brighter than it is in daylight.

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The starboard side looks like a whale blowing, but is a wave smashing into a rock and  the logo again at the top. What you can see of it. This side hasn’t worked as well as it could have. The printing process has displace the image slightly and it’s not quite as good as it should be, it certainly isn’t bright enough and the logos are weak.

Now who is gong to notice that on a daily basis or even remember in a few months time, I don’t know, but it’s an observation that had to be made.

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6) Colours

On balance I’m happy with them. The change in daylight conditions can change the blues so much and there are no immediately available corporate guidelines. Phoenix have done a good job and overall it’s very good.

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7)Score and conclusions

  • -6 for the offset and not brilliantly printed tail images. These should have been the highlight of the model and they aren’t as good as they should have been. Not awful by any means at all, just not brilliant.
  • -2 for the chip in the engine paint
  • 92% is still a very high score for Phoenix and shows they may (at least for this month) have put themselves on a path for greater glory – and with it customer satisfaction!

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