Air China 787-9 B-7877 Gemini Jets GJCCA1579 Sept 2016

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This one wasn’t really on my list, I already have a 788 (one of those early ‘fantasy’ models bought cheaply on eBay), and a 748i, and as far as I was concerned that was more than enough for a state-owned communist dictatorship’s airline to have at RLSI. Then, on one of our regular LH956 late afternoon flights from FRA to BHX, there it was, right next to our gate. I recognised the registration, and for the second time in a few days ordered the model online as I stood looking at the real thing. Honestly that really doesn’t happen often!

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The temptation to have the model in front of you, and video/photos you’ve taken yourself so you can actually review it from direct contact is a rare chance indeed.

Air China is the Chinese People’s Republic (sometimes termed by geographically and politically ignorant newscasters as ‘mainland China’ in the West), government state-owned airline, not to be mistaken for China Airlines,  of the Republic of China on Taiwan. The two countries try to co-exist despite deep political and philosophical differences that cannot be resolved; not least that Taiwan is a democratic state and China couldn’t be more opposed to the principle of democracy if it tried.

Air China’s livery is, to be fair, a bit 1950’s, and rather plain, something not to be unexpected from a rigidly controlled authoritarian communist bureaucracy, where imagination is not something let loose too often. Yet there is a utilitarian, simple, everyman feel about it. It doesn’t cry out luxury or exaggeration.

The theme is not lost on the less than stimulating unoriginality of the bland interior either. I don’t think any airline has taken one of the most advanced aircraft ever built-in the 787-9, and made it look quite  like the inside of an old charabanc as Air China have managed.

Everything is basic, even business class only just scrapes by, in some airlines that wouldn’t be much better than Premium Economy.

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Having said that, it’s fitted with 30 business class, 34 ‘premium economy’, and 229 economy class. It also needs to be pointed out that the Chinese still have quite low expectations (which will inevitably change), having only come to modern mass air travel more recently than Taiwan, and the rest of industrialised world. One recent study estimated that whereas some 79% of Britons had been on an aircraft at least once, in China that number is only 11% but growing rapidly.

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Air China ordered 15 787-9’s and this is the first, delivered only in May 2016. Six are already in service with another due before year’s end. The first three are registered as B-7877, 7878 and 7879.

1.Fuselage

Overall this is a very neat model. The print is right on the mark, for the most part. The upper of the two blue coach lines, which is thinner, seems fine around the centre of the body, but gets just a tiny bit iffy around the tail, underneath where it doesn’t notice so much, but also around the nose, where it does. In fact around the nose it’s not brilliant by any means and it’s easily seen with the naked eye.  Why do they have such difficulty with the front end of aircraft so often?

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Only two aerials up top and one below, but that’s long been a difference between the JCW/Gemini and the Phoenix.

There is even a case for suggesting (and have a look at the video of the pushback to see my reasoning), that there is actually too much detail crammed onto the doors, that is in real life barely visible, if at all. I’ve looked at that video full screen (the orignal version is 4K) on a 5k retina 27″ iMac, and you just can’t see all those door markings as heavily marked as they are on the model. The photo at the top of the page also suggests a degree of exaggeration has occurred.

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2.Wings and landing gear

The big news is the fit and finish of the cradle. This is the first Gemini/JCW 789 I’ve had since the messy, and frankly unacceptably bad KLM and BA 789’s from late 2015. Where they had a mould that looked like it was bashed in with a screw driver, and forced to fit come-what-may, this is as neat and tight-fitting as it’s pretty much possible to manage using a cradle.

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The wings themselves on the upper surfaces aren’t over-glossed and detail is quite clear, below they are glossy and lack perhaps, all the detail they could have, but what needs to be there is clean and clear. Overall, the wings are extremely good.

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The landing gear looks excellent, nice clean, lump free tyres which is a welcome plus point. The doors look good, the paint is so much nicer as grey, rather than toy-like silver. The downside is that not one of the wheels moves or rotates in any way, yet the nose gear does, and on top of that the gaps in the landing gear closures are not the best. These need to be better.

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3.Engines

Brace yourself. Not only does the No.1 Rolls Royce engine not tilt too far forward (a common problem in the past), but the rims are – can you believe this? Perfect. The fan colour is too bright of course, but it’s not toyland silver, more a realistic metallic. The paint finish is superb.  In fact, the entire engine assembly is amazingly good, a quantum jump in quality from this time last year.

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It seems the manufacturer’s long-awaited production line improvements have finally benefitted this old mould, and revitalised what was one of the worst of the latest generations aircraft models.

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4.Nose

The whole nose section is expertly done, with one painfully obvious issue – that upper coachline. It just goes wonky in possibly the one place it’s most noticeable. Having said that, it notices because the rest is in fact so good. Cockpit details and radome, StarAlliance badge and national flag, all outstanding.

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That upper coachline has gone a bit wild at the nose, the lower one has its issues

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5.Tail

A faultless assembly of high quality detailed viewing pleasure. Simple, yet expertly made and assembled.  Little bit of an issue with the same coach line, but here it’s hidden by the horizontal stabilizers from all but intimate inspection.

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6.Colours

Perfect. Very impressive.

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7.Score and conclusions.

  • -6 for the nose and tail coachlines going off course. Visible from the 2 feet away standard at the nose, there’s no choice but to mark it down.
  • -2 for the non-rotating gear wheels. A ‘not the end of the world’ fault that needs improving.
  • 92%  Heavens above can you believe it? A Gemini 787-9 at 92%? I must admit that was a little unexpected. Congratulations to Gemini and the manufacturer for pulling off an excellent model. Three in a row in one month? I’m still way too cynical about quality to think the Christmas volumes won’t bring the quality levels tumbling down again though. Maybe though, just maybe…

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