Hong Kong Airlines Cargo A332F B-LNV JC Wings KD4675 April 2017

Of all the models nobody had bothered with the A332F ranks at the top of my list. Aeroclassics did an ordinary A332F in Turkish Cargo livery – but without the one thing that makes it stand out more than anything else – the enlarged nose gear door fairing, there really wasn’t much point to it.

The A332F was designed to enter service around 2009/10 and was too far advanced at the time of the great crash and subsequent recession in 2008/9, to be abandoned.

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Qatar’s A332F’s of which it has 5, will be a good one for JCW to follow up with

The arguments for it were quite valid, and remained so. The problem was that air freight went into a precipitous nose dive in 2008-11, and then, having made a brief recovery in 2011-12 did the same thing again in 2013-15. Only in mid 2016 did it start to recover. In its wake a raft of bankrupted, merged or near-broke air cargo businesses remained.

Even now the fast changing pace of air freight continues to catch old stalwarts like Cathay Pacific off guard. Multiple passenger airlines have ditched their separate cargo arms and accept that for the most part, belly freight is the way forward. The days of the big, super heavy freighters like the 744F and even the 748F are limited, and the number of operators reliant on specialist contracts on scheduled services struggle to extract value from their expensive investments.

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Hainan Group owned Hong Kong Airlines cargo B-LNV is the subject of this model

Mid-sized aircraft, much in demand by parcel express services, mostly reliant of the ubiquitous and much in demand 767, in pretty much any version they can get, new, used, converted or convertible. Recent analysis shows a big drop in 767’s in storage.  Smaller 737-300/400/500’s are also in high demand. Airbus is embarking on a conversion programme for A320/21’s as it sees demand for those rising in the near future. Even the A332 has an A332P2F (passenger to freighter) conversion programme available from Airbus, though I don’t believe it’s ever been used.

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MAS Kargo no longer operates this version, it remains in storage, note the alternative engine choice.

So who bought the A332F? It was too expensive new for most, even though economically it was remarkably efficient – better than the 767. But the 777F was not that different in price and represented a better buy.  However it does serve a niche market, and it’s still manufactured to order. Currently there are 4 on order and 38 have been built. They also form the basis of the new Beluga replacement. Users are diverse, from Qatar Cargo, Eitihad Cargo, Turkish Cargo, Malaysia Airlines Cargo, and Avianca, to Hong Kong Airlines, and several others who acquired them on lease from BOC and Aircastle.

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The A332F freighter has a range of 7,400 km (4,600 miles) with a 65 tonnes (140,000 lb) payload. It can fly up to 70 tonnes but it reduces the range to 3,700 miles.  Although some think the nose gear is special, it utilises the same nose gear as the passenger version. The passenger A330’s landing gear gives the aircraft a nose-down attitude on the ground. To rectify this the gear is attached lower in the fuselage, and housed in the distinctive bulbous “blister fairing”. This lifts the aircraft’s nose, so that the cargo deck remains level during loading.

The aircraft also carries up to 6 ‘couriers’ and has seating behind the cockpit. It’s available with all three engine types offered on the A330 passenger variant.

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One thing that disturbed me about this was not one UK supplier seems to have picked up on these models. I had to buy it from a European source. It may not be in vast demand, but if you don’t offer even a handful how will anyone buy it without going to extreme lengths? Then again JCW’s reputation for announcing something then either never delivering it or waiting 6-12 months is hardly likely to induce purchasing.

This aircraft was delivered new on 23rd February 2014, on lease from HKIAL.

1.Fuselage

So, JC Wings have taken quite a big leap of faith with this – it required a new mould, that blister fairing is no glue-in. The fuselage itself is excellent. Three well fitted and positioned upper aerials, and one below. The comms dome in the roof is a push-in but it’s not too bad, not perfect, but well within the realm of acceptability.

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Printed details and technical print seem to be accurate and HD in quality.  As part of the mould, the blister is very well done and suitably detailed.

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The wavy red and yellow of the HNA Group’s livery is exceptionally neat. This is the thing with this mould, it’s really good, spoilt by only one really “you’re kidding me” issue….

2.Wings and landing gear

New moulds are expensive, but it also gave them an opportunity to correct the wings on the passenger version. But they didn’t. The wings are too high for a ground model, the sharklet tips should be level with the roof line, not above it, the end of the wing should be level with the window line, not the roof line. This is one thing Phoenix always get right and so did the old Gemini/JCW A330 mould! So why is it STILL like it?  Really is there no learning curve here?

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The wings, other than their positioning, are excellent, neat, decent moulds with plenty of detail, and excellently painted and fitted.

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Landing gear, well I’ve heard tales that some think it’s too short, but I disagree. I think its as good as you’d expect it to be. It’s hard to think these people make Gemini’s over-priced sub-standard models, because this one has none of the brown slop around the gear and the tyres are better. Makes you wonder what we’re paying for with Gemini really. That apart, there is still a lack of quality evident with the way the main gear is poorly assembled, gaping, ill-fitted parts noticeable at the rears of the bogies. However it was possible, using tweezers, to push them together.

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3.Engines

There seems to be a problem with the engines in No.1 position on most of these new models. Plastic moulds are looking unprofessional and poorly made, the rims seems kinked and malleable. In fact wobbly is the word. The No.2 isn’t much better, but no way are they as good as they used to be. Fan colour is iffy, not garish but not accurate. The rears are better. Nacelles have detail and generally appear to be OK. Al least they’re both fitted properly.

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The rim mould just looks weired, like mildly melted plastic

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4.Nose detail

There’s been a small amount of packaging damage to the nose tip, but it’s almost beyond notice. Printed detail is excellent, and the blister fairing excellent. Windows are tidy enough.

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5.Tail detail

The silver tip at the end of the APU exhaust was obviously painted, then put down tail first, rubbing the paint off and leaving white base paint visible. Other than that the paint and detail, as well as overall assembly is very good.

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6.Colours

No issue, a good match.

7.Score and conclusion

  • -5 for the dodgy engine rim mould – to big to not notice
  • -2 for the poor bogie fit and finish
  • -1 for the paint damage on the nose due to lack of protective plastic
  • -1 for the paint damage at the bottom under the APU, though it’s pretty much out of sight.
  • -8 for the wing angles – wrong, just wrong, wrong, wrong!
  • 83% is about what I’d expect from a much cheaper JC Wings model.

It’s a commercial pass, which is all JCW ever aim for these days, and at the low prices relative to the extortion of Gemini, that’s OK to a point. You expect problems, failings, but those engine moulds – yuk; and the flappy wings, spoil a good model.

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I appreciate greatly that JCW have made the effort to include this relatively rare model in their range, just as I do their willingness to produce flaps-down versions of others, though they’re not something I’m overly enamoured with. If they could just lift the quality a bit, and have the common sense to fix obviously problematic failings like the wing position, they’d be scoring far higher, selling more and pleasing many collectors.

My recommendation: A buy, it’s the only thing to do, especially if you you’re in to cargo aircraft, like I am!

 

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