British Airways A318 G-EUNA Herpa 562560 1:400 March 2017

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There isn’t a British Airways collector worth his (or her) salt that hasn’t wanted one of these for years. BA is just one of handful of airlines that operate the A318, even then they only have two, E-EUNA and G-EUNB.

Based not at Heathrow, but London City Airport,  the pair operate, what seems to be in some decline, a business-only service from the financial centre of London’s Docklands, Canary Wharf, and The City of London, to JFK. They use the BA1/2/3/4 flight codes used by Concorde. The aircraft use the former Concorde terminal at JFK.

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Delivered only in August 2009 – right at the peak of the massive unemployment wave that followed on from the financial crash of 2008, BA might be forgiven for wondering quite who the customers for the service might be, at least in the short-term. Banks were under immense scrutiny, having been bailed out by various governments, and an economic catastrophe was narrowly avoided. Even so it still devastated lives, and economic prospects for millions.

It says a lot about the banking industry that the service was never short of customers. Fitted with just 32 x 2-2 paired business class seats, with return trips running at up to £8,000/$10,000 with a three-day advanced booking, the specially modified aircraft are only now feeling the pinch a little, the service being cut to once a day rather twice since the video below was made in 2016; it tells you some interesting stuff about this niche aircraft.

In order to get in and out of London City, a step descent qualification is required for both aircraft and pilot, only 27 BA pilots are qualified to fly them. The flaps and wings had to be very slightly modified to enable the type to operate there, and the engines are high output versions. The outbound flight is especially complex as the aircraft cannot take off with sufficient fuel to reach New York. It has to fly from London to Shannon, where it’s refueled. Meanwhile passengers are treated to passage through US Customs and Immigration, so when they do land at JFK, it’s in effect a domestic arrival, and no formalities are required.

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The return flight, which operates with the wind behind it, is direct to London City, but poor weather (usually fog), means it often gets diverted to Gatwick. They use LGW rather than Heathrow because the rail links from Gatwick back to the Docklands area are closer and faster on the Gatwick Express. We can’t have these wealthy bankers inconvenienced too much, can we?

This isn’t the first Herpa 1;400 A318 in the collection, as the worlds largest operator remains Air France with 19 aircraft – indeed one often appears for the 9am fight on Wednesdays from BHX to CDG, which I’ll be flying on Wednesday this week as it happens!

The Herpa AF version, from 2011 (reviewed here: Air France Airbus A318 F-GUGD Herpa 1:400 562232 2011) had a distinct quality issue – the tail was never properly fixed in, and tilts around 5 degrees. As you know, the shorter the aircraft, the larger the vertical stabilizer needs to be, so it wasn’t something you didn’t notice.

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Lumpy nose gear tyres need trimming

1.Fuselage

The mould was always a good one. The nose shape and overall look is accurate enough, and I’ve no quibble with it. Technical print, doors, windows, and markings are more than adequate, and they are, as on the real aircraft, quite minimal. Correctly, the TFTS shield isn’t present. There are no aerials, , and if you come here often you’ll know I’m never bothered by their omission on such small models.

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Graphics are especially neat, but there is an issue with the blue-white transition, which barely has a perfectly straight line anywhere. Then you get to the cockpit area, and the blue and white have clearly bled all round the nose. It is very small, it is very difficult to see unless you look for it but it’s there. And that’s the question, does it matter? If you have to look to find it does it really make any difference? I say yes, because the prices are high, because Herpa likes to make itself out to be Germanicaly accurate, and high quality. They’re selling you a high-end Mercedes-Benz, and delivering a base model VW Polo.

2.Wings and landing gear

Slot-in wings at this scale give a much superior finish and overall look. The wing moulds are superb and the paint and finish first-rate with the exception of where the starboard leading root edge meets the body – blue paint has leached over.

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I’ll mention the fact that this one (unlike the last two Bombardier CS100’s from Herpa), doesn’t have a stand, and while the CS stand fits, it only does so with an undesirable level of force.

Edit: Someone mentioned the lack of over-wing escape markings. It doesn’t have them on the real thing, it’s an escape hatch, not a door, so not required.

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The landing gear, as so often with Herpa models, lets the side down. Cheap looking plastic, with cheap looking tyres on spigots. The nose gear wheel has a huge lump on it. In fact they look like a 1:500 A320 set have been cheaply used, as an acceptable way of keeping costs down by the manufacturer.

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3.Engines

While an extreme penny-pinching has gone on with the landing gear, the engines are a delight. Superb rims, superb nacelles in terms of paint and accurate detail, nicely done exhaust cones, all caped off with a nice titanium look to the fans. A very neat and refined set of engines, excellently done, all the way to the neatly made, and nicely painted pylons.

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4.Nose detail

Not too bad, the cockpit windows are good, the technical detail, what little there is, is fine. It’s the blue paint again, which on close up has leached into the white paint. You can see it to a small degree with the naked eye, which is why it counts, but on a physical close up it’s not very satisfactory. If it was a large wide body model and it looked like this, I’d send it back. It’s size exempts it from such a measure.

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Leaky blue paint is pretty much smeared over the nose, but it’s hard to see with the naked eye. The horrible plastic gear is much in evidence.

5.Tail detail

This is the one problem in the mould. The width of the vertical stabilizer is lacking, both at the top and the centre. However it is also not quite fitted right, seeming not to be quite as well pushed in, and down at the leading edge above the roof , as it should be.  In essence, it just isn’t as seamless as it needs to be.

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There is no issue with the horizontal stabilizers on the upper surfaces, but underneath the starboard side looks too gluey, and doesn’t fit flush.

6.Colours

These appear to be spot-on, no complaints.

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7.Score and conclusion

  • -6 for the paint bleed, too much of it in too many places if you take the trouble to look for it. If it was more pronounced, and this standard on a wide-body, it would be twice this score and the model would be returned.
  • -2 for two lumpy tyres
  • -4 for the not quite right vertical stabilizer fit
  • -2 for the not-quite-there horizontal stabiliser fit

86% is still a good score, marred by a small number of quality issues. I’d like to know why Herpa didn’t include a stand, while charging the same price for the Bombardier models, which are physically somewhat larger.

The conclusion is that it’s an OK model. It’s not a great model, and it’s not the highest imaginable quality. The new Gemini/JCW A320 mould in the American Airlines livery is up next (it wasn’t planned that way, I know there’s been a lot of A320’s lately), which should be interesting as it’ll be around for a very long time.

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My recommendation: If you’re a BA fan this is a must have. I’m no longer a BA fan, if any airline has devolved, and deliberately reduced its product offering, and standards, BA is it, and it notices. It’s  now my third choice airline to go anywhere – which means it rarely gets my custom. However, this, as a missing piece in a 21st Century BA fleet is crucial.  Herpa always aim for niche product nobody else will ever make in 1:400, why it took them so long to do this, I can’t imagine.

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