Thai A350-900 HS-THC Phoenix 11268 July 2016

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Thai Airways International has gone through some pretty rough times. The political situation in the country has worsened them, with yet another military coup caused by a democratic stalemate and internal violence, a national divide between those who live in the vast areas of countryside and tropical jungles, and the remainder who live a western style urbanized life in the major cities, especially Bangkok.

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HS-THB, the first of Thai’s A350’s readying for delivery

Political uncertainty destabilised the currency, making the airlines ability to pay for fuel, services and aircraft continuously more precarious, especially when most of those commodities are in US Dollars. Add to that fuel prices at the time and drastic actions were needed to cut costs.

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The company began in 1960, a partnership SAS Scandinavian and Thai Airways Co formed to create a national air line. Those days are long gone, and so are many of Thai’s record breaking routes from Bangkok to LAX and JFK using A340-500’s for example. Rising costs and exchange rate issues forced their abandonment of JFK in 2008 and LAX in 2012. Stopping off in Incheon on the way to LAX was finally dropped in September 2015, and the company no longer flies to the US. It even came within a hairs breadth of being cited by the FAA as a Category II airline, which would have been fatal at the time, but measures were taken to prevent that from happening.  The A350 however may, longer term, see the return of Thai to the US.

Most of its routes are European, where a huge, almost all-year tourist market drives a big part of Thailand’s economy and is crucial to the airline.

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In 2014 it was decided to cut costs drastically, all four engined aircraft (except the A380’s) were to be withdrawn as soon as viable, the A340-600 fleet was quickly removed, and Thai Cargo was wound up and its aircraft sold or stored. The 744 fleet was to be completely removed by October 2015, but the huge drop in fuel prices, and the return of demand from tourists after the military coup and the re-establishment of order, allowed a small number to remain until the A350-900 replaces them.

This will be the second A350-941 to enter service, and Thai is the 8th airline to receive one. Fitted with 2 Rolls Royce Trent-XWB-84’s the aircraft will be leased from CIT (the first 4 will be leased, the remaining 12 purchased).

1.Fuselage

Now there is always a danger with a model of an aircraft not yet delivered that something  might be missing. There are however a fair few photos both with, and without engines, and for once it doesn’t look like there is anything wrong.

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The model is the corrected version Phoenix released last year, where the fuselage has been made the correct, smaller size, and the wing-fuselage insert mould heavily revised and tidied up.

Then again, despite that the nose shape is quite wrong – similar but it has a dip in the nose-to-window zone the real thing just doesn’t have. The Gemini/JCW looks more like a 787 and is miles out.

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In general, this is a very impressive, highly detailed, beautifully produced model. The dome in the roof, finally, they seem to have mastered how to get that right; three aerials again, all neat and well seated.  The quality of the print and tri-colour paint scheme is exceptional. Beautiful definition and finish. The smallest details seem to be done as well as anyone could ever expect.

2.Wings and landing gear

The shape of the multi-curve sharklet is one of the unique characteristics of the A350, and Phoenix completely trounced Gemini/JCW here. There are varying degrees of curvature depending on where you view them from – and the Phoenix one seems to be based on some astute observations and technical drawings, the Gemini /JCW version is one that gives the impression of being seen only from end-on, where it does indeed look as flat as they portrayed it.

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There is also a great deal of flex in the A350 wing, but the landed version, as this is, has remarkably level wings, another notable attention to detail.

What is incorrect however is the lack of detail on the upper wing surface. The centre panel is a slightly darker shade of grey on the A350, it is not uniform pale grey, and this is something Phoenix need to correct. It’s no good just pretending doing it wrong is OK, because it isn’t, and until its corrected, this model, which in so many ways is heading to a 100% score, cannot achieve that accolade.  The mould is set, I accept that, especially on the fuselage, but the ability to paint the correct colour into the wing is not a major change.

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Landing gear is also not correct. The main gear doors are just not the correct shape, close but wrong all the same, though now fixed and never likely to change.

Now the wheels…some people say they are too big. I disagree and I’ve stood right next to the real thing so for once I’m in a good position to judge that for myself and I just can’t accept that they are. The original ones on the pre-mod Qatar A350, I’ll agree that was the case, but on this one, no.

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3.Engines

These are generally superb. I showed them to my brother-in-law who worked extensively on their design and is working on the A350-1000 upgrades. His only comment “why are the exhaust cones grey, they should be blue”. Indeed they should, just have a look at the Farnborough 2016 article and the A350 close up images. The silver bypass section should be a grey-brown, the cone almost sapphire blue, and the cone, unlike the rest doesn’t change it’s colour with age.

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That apart, they are superbly done, the rims are perfect, the silver rims really are faultless, and of course they have those Witty-like see through fans, though they don’t rotate. Add to that the choice of fan colour paint, which looks highly realistic, and you have a superb set of engines. Compare the quality to the crap on the Gemini A320’s of late and you’d think these were made in heaven.

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4. Nose detail

Superbly and accurately detailed (given that the mould is wrong). I took photos of all of the A350 sensors and positions and associated markings and this is the best yet as models go.

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5. Tail detail

Neat, accurate, tidy, beautifully done. Outstanding.

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6. Colours

Perfect.

7. Score and conclusions

  • -4 for upper wing colour surface error
  • -2 for engine cone colour
  • 94% is an excellent score

I haven’t and won’t score down things which are now never going to be changed – the nose shape and the gear doors for example. We all know what’s wrong and buy it as is, or we don’t.

In general, if it wasn’t for the two fails above, this is outstanding quality. What is there, is some of the best Phoenix have ever produced. It’s proving difficult to not see Phoenix winning this years MOTY, which a few months ago would have seemed most unlikely.

Currently Phoenix are clearly the superior model maker right now – though I wouldn’t go rushing off and ordering their new BA 772 model – it’s paint is poor and the engines are the wrong ones – and that was just based on Phoenix’s own promo photo!

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