Saudia 787-9 HZ-ARA Phoenix 11233 2016

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Originally set up in 1946 the airline has changed it’s name twice to the same thing:

Saudi Arabian Airlines [1946-1972], Saudia [1972-1996], Saudi Arabian Airlines [1996-2012] and now Saudia [2012-].  I could use this to demonstrate a sort of schizophrenic politics, on the one side, an ultra-religious and inflexible society where women are banned from shopping in Mothercare and can’t drive cars, and the other, a burning desire to change such restrictions without loosing sight of deeply held religious and social beliefs. 

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I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes. Travel out of Saudi Arabia by air and as the plane leaves Saudi airspace, watch the unseemly scramble for the toilets, as women and men ditch the traditional garb for western clothing !

Either way, Saudia is an understated operator. With 165 aircraft, 47 of them Boeing 772 or 773. Despite the kingdom’s vast wealth in the past, (though it’s currently running a very substantial deficit, and has cut spending, oil prices being what they are – and again – schizophrenicaly enough, of their own making, as they won’t cut production to increase the price in case they loose market share to arch-enemy Iran), the airline has never been any type of Emirates, Etihad or Qatar.

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Part of that is, until recently, a highly restricted and regulated market – it’s been only two years since the airline lost its total monopoly on domestic flights, though much is being done to liberalise it and create competition, everything in Saudi Arabia takes time. This century at last saw the slow privatisation of the airline and it’s removal from state control.

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You can never get politics or national identity away from airlines anywhere in the world, and Saudia is no different. It’s international geo-politics that’s driving change for Saudia. They Saudis watched how Qatar – a major political and religious rival in the The Gulf, has used its airline and image to spread its power and influence globally, well beyond the countries physical size, which is barely that of Rhode Island, both politically and commercially.

So have the UAE’s airlines, Etihad and Emirates, although they have vastly less of a state driven political/religious agenda, both are deeply commercial. The growing prospect of a resurgence in arch-enemy Iran’s airlines is enough to motivate the Saudis to do more with their own. By 2020 expect a far more widely recognised and utilised airline.

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There have been very few models in the current livery, one a 773 is in the current livery but with the pre-2012 Saudi Arabian name, and I’ve been wanting to replace it.

I never bought the 787-9 until recently, despite its release earlier in 2016 (and it had extra discount, always a motivator), but here it is. Delivered on the  4th February 2016 and fitted with 24 business and 274 economy seats.

1.Fuselage

When Phoenix do a 787 properly and don’t have paint fails, there’s little that can touch it. The Gemini/JCW version certainly can’t as it’s too often spoilt by the ancient, and badly fitted cradle fit wings and a drooping engine.

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This one is no exception, everything about the fuselage is spot on for detail in print and paint, though in fairness the forward cargo door line fades away a bit too much underneath, though that’s a very minor point.The mould itself lacks the air intakes forward of the wing root and the “resting line” where the flaps are up but, this is the mould as it always has been and there’s not much that can be done about that now, and they are relatively minor details.

2. Wings and landing gear

The wings are perfect, in shape, paint quality and markings.

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The landing gear is good, the wheels all rotate and the tyres are better than average, lump free. The starboard gear door has a lump at the rear – probably flashing that’s been painted over. Minor but visible.

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3. Engines

The GEnx-1B’s are first-rate, all the markings, even the ones under the engines, perfect nacelles, superb rims, excellent paint colours for the rims and the fans. Even the exhaust cones look excellent. An excellent job.

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4. Nose detail

Outstandingly good, all the way down to the Saudi flag with its micro detail behind door 1. The Skyteam logo too, looks first-rate. Really excellent, quality definition and print.

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5. Tail detail

The Saudi crescent moon, crossed swords and palm tree, all superbly done in antique gold, proving it is possible to get metallic paints to adhere to gloss when the correct methodology is employed, and quality paint and print systems used. A lesson Gemini/JCW could do with teaching the team who make the shoddy A320’s.

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6. Colours

The sand-beige colour is very subjective and changes with the intensity of the light, but the model colour is as good as you’re ever likely to see. That isn’t a criticism. It’s one of the harder schemes to pin down colour wise and only seeing one of the 773’s at Manchester made me realise that it can look quite dark in certain lights, and strangely pale in others.

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7. Score and conclusions

  • -1 for the landing gear door lump
  • -1 for the fading cargo door line
  • 98% is an excellent score and as a 2016 model, it’s a front-runner for MOTY 2016.

Well, it has to be said, it wasn’t a priority model, but now I have it, it should have been. It’s really rather excellent. A classic and conservative livery, yet clealry tells you where it comes from and whose airline it is. Superb. Congratulations to Phoenix.

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