Skymark A330-300 JA330D Phoenix 11299 Sept 2016

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If ever there was an airline with a tumultuous but relatively short history, it would be Skymark. Driven to success, and eventual near destruction, by one determined if slightly erratic Japanese internet businessman, Shinichi Nishikubo, it was Japan’s first low-cost airline. 

Japan had a tight duopoly for years with ANA and JAL completely dominant and zero competition in fares. Japan’s geography makes it a place difficult for major rail routes, with vast mountain ranges, an active volcano and earthquake zone, across multiple islands. The same goes for road transport. The only rapid travel solution around a country that stretches 3000km’s from top to bottom and in total land mass is actually slightly smaller than California, is by air.

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Skymark when it came on the scene in 1996, was a revelation for Japanese consumers, used to rigid high prices and patriarchal “we know best” old school airlines, long overdue a kick in the aviation rear end. It’s popularity took time to catch on to a very conservative travelling public, and it went through some painful start-up years. Other airlines were also on the scene following de-regulation but few were making deep inroads to the majors. Most didn’t last.

Enter, in 2003; Shinichi Nishikubo, an internet billionaire who sank a third of his fortune into the airline, and persuaded it to take the low-cost route. Business boomed. Ambition can get in the way of many things and just because you’re always right most of the time, doesn’t mean you’re always right all of the time.

Inevitably Skymark realised that ANA and JAL were ripe for some international competition, and began looking at A380’s in 2010, having ordered A330’s for heavy commuter routes on the domestic front. Their aim was Los Angeles, London and Paris, by A380, in a premium lay-out of just 388 seats, but selling the seats at low-cost prices. Analysts world-wide amused themselves with how the maths would work out, none of it seemed to make any sense.

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While Skymark was busy aggrandizing itself and planning amazing new routes, with little or no strategy on how to fill the A380’s for the return flights to Japan, a whole new set of opponents sprang up in a matter of a couple of years, although all of them were controlled by ANA or JAL. Low-cost airlines from Hokkaido to Okinawa started to eat in to Skymark’s market. The two big airlines were never keen on opposition, and Japanese commercial interests are deeply entrenched in ensuring a status quo.

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Having found a way to beat Skymark at its own game the big airlines waited for the inevitable; the company found itself loosing money hand over fist just as it needed to pay for the A380’s.

With Airbus the main creditor, eventually, and after much turmoil, ANA took a 16.5% share, two Japanese banks 33.4% and the PEF Integral Corporation the rest. The deal with Airbus to give up its rights to Skymark as the biggest creditor however, was that ANA would buy at least three of the six A380’s ordered, (1 of which had been finished, 1 was 50% completed and the other in pre-assembly). I saw the first two in storage at Toulouse. They went to Emirates eventually, the last MSN 185, was officially never built. ANA’s are to be new builds in 2018.

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The other part of the deal was that all of the large aircraft would go, and Skymark would be allowed only domestic services using 26 737-800’s. The 5 A330’s were all returned to Intrepid Aviation Leasing. Technically Skymark remains the only independently owned low-cost carrier in Japan.

This particular aircraft was flown from Toulouse to Haneda (Tokyo), on 28 July 2014, and withdrawn from service six months later in January 2015. She was re-registered twice by IAP while stored, and was due to be delivered to Turkish Airlines in January 2017. That now looks unlikely with Turkish deferring all widebody deliveries for two years as it faces its own crisis. Currently (Oct 2016) stored at Pinal Airpark in Arizona.

I justify having this at RLSI as it could reach the UK from Tokyo Haneda!

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1.Fuselage

Standard Phoenix A333 with 3 aerials up top and an add-on comms dome at the rear. This of course has been a constant pain in the past, many of them being atrociously fitted, or the mould completely screwed up in some way.  Finally it seems Phoenix have managed to work out how to do it without making it a mess, though it’s not as perfect as the recent JC Wings PIA one.  There is still a mould distortion at the rear right, tiny admittedly but still present.

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The comms dome on the roof is better than they have been, but far from perfect

The print and detail are excellent, simple, straight forward, clean and refined.

Somebody wrote to me that Phoenix, “keep getting the middle doors wrong on some A330’s”.  Actually, they don’t.  The third door is considered escape only, and many airlines choose to have only the small standard escape door installed. Some airlines, like Virgin Atlantic for example, opt to have a full size door installed (rows 48-49) because some of the airports they land at in the Caribbean don’t have armed gates and it’s easier to get everyone off on stairs into buses. Most airlines with A330’s have the smaller door, even Delta and Lufthansa.

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2.Wings and landing gear

The wing problems of 2015 are long gone. Well fitted, highly over-glossed however, and lose a lot of detail as a result.  Generally very neat and tidy though it has to be said.

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The landing gear is OK. The doors may be entirely satisfactory, but the bright silver looks toy-like and isn’t brilliant in any way. The starboard bogie had to be twisted back into position and the whole thing hasn’t been put on right and kicks out to the left. You can easily see it’s simply not been pushed into the wing. Eventually I’ll have to prise it off and re-set it. The tyres are thin, often lumpy and uneven.

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The glossy wings are over done, obscuring detail.

What is untidy is the engine pylon. The mould is painted well enough but it’s just rough.

3.Engines

The engine nacelles and markings are very good. The rims are also in the very good category, but because of the heavy silver they use and the gloss paint beneath, parts of the rims have not bonded as usual, and blue shows through. Very much better than we usually see but not as good as say, the latest JC Wings PIA 772.

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The fan colour is very good though, both ends. It’s also a separate paint job and the inner engines are not awash with silver paint. A good improvement.

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4.Nose

Simple, straightforward, minimal detail. You can just make out the radome join line.

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5.Tail

Excellent, a problem free area.

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6.Colours

Absolutely spot on. First rate blue and the two-tone yellow and part grey star is excellent.

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7.Score and conclusions

  • -1 for the comms dome, better but not excellent
  • -2 for the over-glossed wings; it’s starting to get to a point where it’s detrimental to the model
  • -2 for the rim paint on the engines. It’s better but far from perfect
  • -2 for the rough mould finish on the engine pylons
  • -6 for the landing gear. Really not good enough. Landing gear across the entire Phoenix range needs looking at and the tyres are horrible, leaching chemicals into the diorama foil that permanently stains it.
  • 87% is the final score. It’s an entirely middle of the road model for quality. It’s not bad in any real way, but it’s not outstanding either. As a friend of mine often says, “Phoenix only make a good model by accident”.

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