Vueling A320-232 EC-MEL Gemini Jets GJVLG1491 July 2016

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Vuelo – Spanish for flying and the English suffix ‘ing‘ created the company’s name.

Established in Barcelona back in February 2004 by Lázaro Ros and Carlos Muñoz, one of the initial investors was actually JetBlue. The airline did fairly well, growing at a considerable pace until 2007 when it faced financial issues, one of its big investors wanting to reduce its share holding. The founders have since departed and set up another airline, VOLOTEA. 

Barbara Cassini was appointed chairman of the board in September 2007 to sort it out. She had set up British Airway’s short-lived (but actually highly successful) Go! subsidiary, (the one that Stelios Haj Ioannu and the easyJet management gate-crashed the first flight, handing out free easyJet tickets),  that was eventually sold to easyJet by BA, despite her protests. The restructure was effective with Vueling returning to profit in 2009, despite (and maybe because of) the recession.

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By 2012 the airline was going from strength to strength, having spread widely around the shores of the western Mediterranean and northward to Paris and Brussels. It’s main shareholder at this time was now Iberia who owned 45%, and that had just been taken over by British Airways, who created the International Airlines Group to act as parent. Vueling was instantly a target and IAG offered to buy out the remaining 55%. After raising its offer in 2013, Vueling’s board eventually accepted.

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IAG’s modus operandi is to leave existing management in place – they believe they purchased a successful airline and it was the management of that airline that made it that way so why get rid of it? CEO Alex Cruz remains in operational charge of the airline reporting to Willie Walsh at IAG. Vueling has spread even further since then, operating throughout the European Mediterranean and much of Western Europe including the UK, with slots at Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester.

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The fleet consists of 110 aircraft at the time of writing, 6 A319, 94 A320-232’s and 10 A321’s.  As part of IAG’s group policy, from mid 2015 all A320’s are configured to a standard pattern, allowing for a 7 day transfer from one airline to another. Seat covers, branding and external paint can all be changed as needed to offer cross-group utilisation based on demand.

This aircraft EC-MEL “you’re the Vueling I want” (not all Vueling aircraft are ‘named’) was fitted with an experimental set of LED external lights, these were being trialled for certification. She was also the last of the 180 seat variants, all future A320’s being fitted with 186 economy seats.

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1.Fuselage

Standard Gemini fare of course and still the old mould. If anything needs replacing this does. You would think by now they would have launched a Neo version as several are now in service, especially the Lufthansa one, and as the fuselage itself shows only miniscule changes, the rest being in the wings and engines, it would seem easy enough to produce even with a choice of three engines, new mould and nice new correctly levelled slot-in wings would be so much more agreeable.

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That apart, from an eyeball perspective it doesn’t look to bad from a couple of feet away. Rarely is the fuselage badly done these days, it’s the rest of it that seems to be so dodgy.

Even so, some of the grey dots on the rear are not well defined if you look.

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2. Wings and landing gear

This is just a dreadful fit for that knackered old cradle, its gaps – you can clearly see through from one side to the other – are unbelievably poor. There is also a paint chip in the forward part of the wing root on the starboard side – you can’t see it from above but from head on or below its as clear as daylight. The Paint in the vicinity also seems to have suffered from some sort of sticky finger, honestly it’s enough to make you want to wipe the model down with a disinfectant cloth!

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The thing is the wings themselves, the detail and paint are all good, the exception being the huge sharklets, where the paint is way to thin and hasn’t even bonded at the edges, and that does notice.

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The landing gear, something that has been going down hill on Gemini again of late, is over painted, the port wheels are bent to the left very slightly – though can be corrected with some care. Nose gear tyres are lumpy, and again mildly skewed to port, but, again can be corrected.

3. Engines

The pair of  IAE V2527-A5’s are fairly reasonable. The fans are excessively and inappropriately silver. The rims are thin and rubbish, looking lumpy and poorly applied. I mean is there anything new there? No! It’s like they just have a relentless wish to never change and never improve, as long as they can keep taking money for this stuff what incentive is there?

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The good points are that the print and colours are good, and at least the engine exhaust is dark coloured and not bare plastic or silver.

4. Nose detail

Perfectly reasonable and you wouldn’t find a problem from the eyeball view. Close up there’s a little bt of definition missing on the cockpit windows.

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5. Tail detail

A crucial element this, with its graded grey solid to dots that descend in size from the rear forward. The good news is the tail is at least fitted properly, a problem of late on prior models. There is a small amount of painted glue strand at the rear base, but it’s not visible to the naked eye. The yellow dot in the top of the tail is correct.

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6. Colours

Perfectly good.

7. Score and conclusions

  • -5 cradle fit, gaps
  • -5 for marks and paint chip
  • -3 for wonky landing gear
  • -6 for engine fans, rims colour and finish, sharklet paint finish
  • 81% – yet another marginal pass

It’s another dose of commercial acceptability, you know, just about passable but not so bad anyone will moan about it too much; the ultimate in cynical manufacturing and marketing.

The problem is, especially in the UK, with currency changes of late following the vote to leave the EU, these models are running out at near £30 for an A320 – and frankly they’re just not worth that much. I look at it and I don’t see £30, nor do others I’ve been talking to. So unless we’re going to see a quality improvement and a new mould and soon, A320’s are not on my value for money list. Another jetBlue was on Gemini’s list for July-August, and I just can’t be asked to order it, not with this barely average quality and those prices.

Gemini need to have a word with their model maker, JCW, because they’re going through a very bad quality patch right now and taking Gemini with them.

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