Air France 787-9 F-HRBA Phoenix 11333 1:400 Jan 2017

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There is something mildly arrogant about Air France, but I think that goes with the territory of being a flag carrier. Recent industrial disputes however brough some of the senior management down to earth with a bang, and it seems to have softened its tone and style a little, especially following the departure of the haughty, and aristocratic, Alexander de Juniac as CEO. Frankly not before time.

As with Qantas, Virgin Atlantic, BA and just about anyone who’s taken delivery of a 787 Dreamliner, Air France is no exception in making sure you as a passenger know that you’re entering a new age for the airline.

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AirFrance -KLM Group was forced, by its own finances, to avoid giving its major airline the 787 until after KLM on cost grounds. KLM could justify the deliveries through results, and AirFrance couldn’t. In the end the board changed the goal posts, deciding that the new aircraft would actually be far more beneficial in cost savings overall, than keeping the 744’s and the A343’s flying.

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The striking thing about the 789 livery is that nothing appears to have changed. However the AIRFRANCE logo is larger and thicker than it was, but still the same font. Apparently the round fuselage made the smaller logo look too thin, an entirely optical illusion. The aesthetically demanding French, (my family is French, but English, it’s complicated), well we can’t, just simply can’t, physically cope with such a thing. It grinds us down until we go insane trying to ignore it, so it was changed. Not enough that anyone outside of France or the industry would really notice, but just enough to assuage our collective conscience. Now all of France can sleep at night, at least until the elections in May.

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There are several notable facts about the aircraft. It’s the 500th Dreamliner delivered, the 50th delivered by lessor AerCap, and of course Air France’s first. It’s hard to pin down how many Air France will end up with, because the AF-KLM Group ordered a total, and pretty much divides them up at the last-minute before construction begins. Deliveries are based more on need, though a general total is understood to exist for each.  Currently that sits at 18 -9, 7 -10, and 12 leased -9’s through Aercap, of which this is one. KLM has definitely got the better deal so far.

AF also introduced new seating, in all three classes (Business, PE and Economy), but at present that will stay only in Dreamliners and eventually A350’s. These are especially generous in Economy, with a 31″ pitch – most are 28″ to 30″ these days, but they are narrow at 17.5″. The layout is C30, W21, Y225. Air France is not developing a replacement First Class.

1.Fuselage

Being a 787, it has to be the most successful of Phoenix’s model range. Whatever it is about this model’s production line, Phoenix just repeatedly seem to get it right. More than right, verging on perfection.

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I recently had the opportunity to see the Gemini version, first in photos – covered in black oily fingerprints, poor tail paint, excess glue, and a mediocre fit of the vertical stabilizer into the fuselage. I thought it might be a one-off, but I was in Ian Allan Birmingham, where they keep a range of Gemini at outlandish prices (retail +15%), and the one in the box there, which they let me take out, was as bad if not worse. I’d already cancelled the Gemini one and ordered the Phoenix, and I’m delighted I did so.

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The Phoenix 787-9 is simply a delight, it’s what keeps me buying these things when in doubt. Even the dome, which has often been a roof mounted fright, even a year ago, is something they seem to have resolved. It’s perfectly shaped, painted and installed, fitting flush to the roof.

Aerials are all fitted and well painted, the technical detail, windows, doors, AF-KLM logo, Skyteam logo, are all excellent.

2.Wings and landing gear

High gloss, but visible detail. Technical detail is, as always, excellent. The wings fit with such precision you’d barely know there was a join.

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Lights, fit, silver leading edge trim, is all perfect.

The landing gear is excellent, tyres are superb, all wheels rotate, paint is spot on and the doors perfect.The nose gear is excellent.

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The bent nose gear was my fault, didn’t realise I’d hit it that hard, but now corrected!

3.Engines

The GEnex 1B’s are outstanding, all the way to their ‘crevette’ logo on each side of the nacelle. Fans are titanium, rims are silver perfection, the exhaust and cone excellent.With one exception. These are Rolls Royce blue exhausts, the GE doesn’t have. That Phoenix do have two types is great, that they can’t always work out which goes on which aircraft, less so.

To put to rest this cone colour argument, the Rolls Royce exhaust cone is deep mineral blue, almost sapphire. It stays that colour because of the way it’s treated. The GE engine has  a blue colour when new, but it quickly turns grey, in a few days you’d never know it ever had a blue finish.

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4.Nose detail

Unsurpassable, as good as it can ever get.

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5.Tail detail

The one thing that continuously fails on Air France and other European liveries where they include it – the circle of EU stars at the top of the tail, printed on blue. They’re meant to be yellow, but it just doesn’t print well onto dark blue, so they’re almost invisible.

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6.Colours

Flawless. Hard to get excited over white I know, but at least Air France has always been white, not just adopted it for economy in paint costs!  Everything else is spot on.

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7.Score and conclusion

  • -1 for the circle of stars
  • -2 for the wrong exhaust cone colour
  • 97% is an excellent score.

What can I say? This is the last Phoenix delivery before the Chinese New Year. Staff tend to move around and change – let’s hope that Phoenix keep whoever they have got, because these people are making better models than we’ve ever seen. Except the A350. And the contractor who makes those crap 777/A350 landing gear doors.

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QC has got better but it’s not perfect, but that’s a general observation.  In any event this is a super model.

My recommendation: A very positive buy, I can’t really see how you could go wrong. It’s better than the Gemini, it’s cheaper than the Gemini. A win-win!

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