Plus Ultra A340-300 EC-MFA Aeroclassics 1:400 October 2017

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I have to admit I’d never heard of Plus Ultra as an airline, but it is the Kingdom of Spain’s moto, and means “more beyond”. Airspotters.com also advertised it as an A340-200 – something of a rare bird and not much liked by anyone, so much so that Cathay Pacific made Airbus take theirs back.  I should have checked first, because it is actually a -300, not that it owuld have stopped me buying it.

That aside, Plus Ultra Líneas Aéreas S.A. is a Spanish airline, operating out of Madrid Barajas, and established in 2012, but only started flying on August 5th 2015.

It operates 1 772 and 3 A340-313’s, with an average fleet age of nearly 18 years. The other two A343’s are EC-MFB, with a near identical history, and EC-MQM which was only delivered in June 2017 and is ex-Air France F-GNII.

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November 2016 without the Cubana tiles

This model, EC-MFA is named Virgen de la Guía – Portugalete and is fitted with 18 business class and 285 economy seats. Presently she’s leased from Novus Aviation Capital and was delivered on June 9th 2015. Lease costs on old A343’s are ridiculously low, as used values barely touch $3 million making them ideal for long haul low-cost if you can afford the fuel and maintenance.

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11 July 2017 with the Cubana tiles

She previously went under EC-MDG for Plus Ultra, but never flew on that reg for them, just for the leasing company on delivery. She was briefly registered as SX-TIF for Hellenic Imperial Airways but never delivered. Before that she was A9C-LG for Bahrein’s Gulf Air, and before that under the old Gulf Air as A4O-LG. Prior to that she was D-ABGM, while owned by Boeing as a part exchange, having been traded-in by original owner Singapore Airlines (9V-SJL) who had her for just 5 years, 19th March 1998 to end of March 2003.  Manufacturers MSN 212, sometimes they have the -313X designation for extended range but this was never used by Airbus.

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Back in her Gulf Air days – September 2009

The Cubana tiles were added when on 26th June 2017, Plus Ultra signed a deal with Cubana to operate flights direct from Barcelona El Prat to Havana, Cuba. The Cubans made a big deal about this and the deal was only agreed to if the aircraft carried the Cubana tiles – it’s a sort of Joint Venture that isn’t.  However with many Spaniards having descendants in Cuba, never mind the attractions of a city that’s still some 50 years in the past, and high on “vanishing age tourism”, it’s a popular route, though somewhat one-directional. Few Cubans can afford the air fares, never mind obtain a passport and an exit visa.

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The original pair at Madrid

Either way, with airline specialising in connecting Spanish-speaking countries, Santiago in Chile, Lima in Peru, Santa Cruz in Bolivia, and now Havana in Cuba, it seems to have found a viable niche, though how long before LEVEL or Norwegian starts to compete directly from Barcelona or Madrid, never mind Iberia which is visibly getting back in the game?

So with Aeroclassics recent improvements in colour and build quality, plus an inclination to produce what others won’t, what have they done with the model?

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1.Fuselage

The always excellent A340 mould from Aeroclassics rarely disappoints. It’s time for AC to start thinking about aerials now, as they are definitely looking less and less detailed than their opposition, especially Phoenix. However it has to be said AC do  provide us with more of the interesting, less mainstream models.

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Standards on this model are exemplary. The quality of the graphics, print and paint is outstanding.

I know with such a white base there isn’t much that can go wrong, but Phoenix and Gemini have managed it in the past and so have JCW and AC themselves. The Cubana tiles look great and add a splash of colour to go with the Spanish flag themed red and yellow. The large website address (unusually these days they include the www) plusultra.com in paler grey also looks precise.

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2.Wings and landing gear

The wings are truly seamlessly integrated into the fuselage and look highly realistic. The mould around the wing root is very precise and more detailed than the opposition, so stands out for being superior.

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The wing paint is verging on, but not quite over glossed, marginally obscuring detail. It’s partly compensated by having a good silk-matt finish to the central grey part of the wing.

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The landing gear is for once fault free, but I always err on the side of caution and add a tiny bit of glue to each wheel, too often as time goes by, have tyres or wheels gone missing, and having to dig through the dust of the Roomba’s collection pod for one is no fun.

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3.Engines

Four CFM-56C4’s power this aircraft and the model moulds are really very good. Rims front and rear are excellent, fans not such a lurid silver as we’ve seen but still too bright. This is one thing model makers must universally amend. Nobody has silver fans, so why persist with them? Are you decorating the model or replicating the real thing? Replication is what collectors want, so how about giving it to them and hearing what they say?

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Other than that, these are a great set of engines, on excellent pylons, so another big plus for this model.

4.Nose detail

Excellent, with picot tubes, great cockpit windows, and the aircraft name easily visible.

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5.Tail detail

Superbly made and assembled, a really simple, but neat paint job,

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6.Colours

Faultless, merely reinforcing AC’s apparent acceptance it did have a colour problem in the past and now seems to have over come it. Colours of late have been spot on, and this is no exception.

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7.Score & Conclusion

There are no faults with this model, it is, delightfully, and pleasingly perfect.

  • 100%

Could it be improved? Arguably you can’t improve perfection, so lets say that it needs to start to match all competitors and fast. If Panda can make models with aerials now, and everyone else is, it’s time AC finally took that leap of faith.

So while the model is perfect based on its current production standards, yes, it can be improved on.

However, do not let that detract from the fact that whatever AC have been doing of late the quality of all of the models I buy from them has improved significantly. I used to buy them with reluctance and only if they did something nobody else did. I’m far more likely to consider an A340/A330 than anyone else, and even the right A320/21. Yes they do need aerials, it’s becoming detrimental not having them now, but only if they can do them properly – and look how long it took Gemini, JCW and Phoenix to learn how to get them to stay put.

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There is one thing I would love them to do. The A350. If they could make that mould and do it right, they’d have a winner from day one, because all of the others are rubbish by comparison, especially the JCW/Gemini.

My recommendation: A buy! An off the wall and unusual niche airline giving a new lease of life to an A340, superbly made by Aeroclassics. 

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