Air Moldova A320-233 ER-AXP Aeroclassics Jan 2018

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Many of you will struggle to find Moldova on a map. It’s a strange country jammed between Rumania and the Ukraine, formerly a Soviet republic inside communist Russia, it’s been Russian Imperial territory in the days of the Czars, it’s been Romanian twice (also known as Bessarabia), part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire in its peak days and even the Khanate of Crimea.  It’s a country that I once described to my history students as “the doormat of Europe”. Everyone walked over it to get where they were going. Even the Romans, Huns, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Sythians, Slavs, Bulgars, Poles, Lithuanians, Swedes, Cossacks and Genghis Khan at one point, and of course Germans.

Oddly enough, it’s still in an awkward place. The Russians keep troops in a breakaway part of the country called Transnistria.  It pressures the Ukraine from its western borders, and it makes the Rumanians and NATO nervous, and prevented the territory from joining Moldova. In territory size it’s about the same as New Hampshire.

Moldova has the lowest per capita income in all of Europe – even worse than Albania, and it’s the least visited country on the continent with under 11,000 tourists a year. The miniscule pimple known as Vatican City in Rome – the worlds smallest country clocks that many in an hour.

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Air Moldova is based in the capital, Chișinău (pronounced chi-shi-now), and while technically its history dates back to 1944 and the Soviet occupation as World War 2 ended, it wasn’t until the 1960’s and 70’s that it entered the modern era.

The airline was effectively created anew in 1993 as the Soviets had collapsed and the republics it held through military might alone declared independence. There was almost civil war as many wanted to join Rumania where cultural ties are strong.

It’s fair to say the airline has struggled to survive. The Ukraine conflict now and the wars in the Balkans during the 1990’s didn’t help. Some of its aircraft (including this one) were leased out for periods when it couldn’t use them.

It currently operates 2 A319’s and 2 A320’s along with three ERJ-190’s. The A320’s are both elderly at 21 and 22 years.

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One of the things I like about Aeroclassics, is that they often address airlines that nobody much thinks about. Air Moldova is hardly a major airline, but it is one inside the European airline system that has long been overlooked. That’s the only reason I bought this model. In fact its sister aircraft was released at the same time but who needs two?

The livery is based on the three colours of the dervative Romanian national flag used by Moldova which is a red, yellow and blue vertical tricolor, (red for the blood spilled achieving independence from the Ottoman Empire, yellow for the wheat fields and blue for the life-giving river Danube).

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The aircraft was delivered to TACA International Airlines of El Salvador by leasing company BBAM in San Francisco, as N452TA in 1997, then leased to Air Moldova in 2009 as ER-AXP. She spent two years (March 2009-March 20011) with RAK Airways (Ras Al Khaimah, a member state of the United Arab Emirates) using the same registration, and then went back into Air Moldova service where she’s remained.

Fitted with 8 business class and 167 economy, she’s powered by a pair of IAE V2527E-A5’s.

1.Fuselage

You have to give AC their due, the latest printing and definition is much higher than it was a couple of years ago. It’s incredibly neat, painted to a very high standard and the print – technical detail especially, really quite excellent.

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The downside is that there isn’t enough detail on the roof for example. No lights, no attempt to paint on the near flat dome amidships, and, of course no aerials, which is now standard practice on every other manufacturers models.

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There is one detail issue. Look at the third photo down and then look at the blue slope to the line. Notice how the wing root cuts quite deeply into the blue? It doesn’t do that on the model.

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2.Wings

Quite superb, the upper surfaces are excellent in detail and the quality and thickness of paint are just about OK, although the light grey is a little thick. My only observation is that the escape arrows don’t match up with the over-wing escape hatches. Without being able to see the surface of the wings (I can’t find a photo to show it), this may or may not be accurate, so I’ll let it pass.

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The wings fit well, and are properly fixed. A little better than they have been in the past, as that tiny mould issue that stops them fitting tightly underneath on the left wing isn’t as pronounced as it has been previously.

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The underwing is bland lightly glossed light grey, with the registration in quite large letters under the end of the left wing, commensurate with the real thing.

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Another positive is that the leading edges are very light silver – a deftly neat touch often missing from prior models, so another improvement appropriate to this model. I dont mind silver leading edges when they are on the real thing.

3.Landing gear

It’s still the old-fashioned rubber on spigot goings on thats so 2006, but they look like they might stay on a bit better than in the past. I usually have to glue the nose tyres on as soon as they arrive because they have always fallen off – try finding one if it does! in fact I found one from an AC model on the sjelving the other day and now can’t work out which one its fallen off of!

The flashing problems of the last A320 from AC (the Eurowings holidays), which spoilt the landing gear, seem to have been mostly resolved on this model.

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4.Engines

These older engines are quite large and not the most efficient fuel wise. The moulds are plastic as are the pylons, but they’re pretty good all round. Still using too much over silvered paint on the fans and rims though, which are very messy inside the rim and show some unsightly silver lumps. Show me bright silver fans on any modern airliner? They just don’t have them, so why do model makers persist with them? It’s utterly ridiculous and monumentally cheapskate.

There’s also something a bit naff about engines that move about on their plastic pylons as easily as these do. Just feels cheap.

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The exhausts on this are reasonably neat for the size of model. I just hate plastic engines on principle, especially when they’re this flimsy on their pylons. the worst aspect on close up is that Humbrol paint thing, where the silver has dried too much and goes lumpy in the tin, then looks lumpy when applied, as it does on these rear rims.

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5.Nose detail

As much as possibly can be made visible has been and the nose is excellent. I love the cockpit colour on these models too, it looks more realistic – especially on such a bright gloss blue background.

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6.Tail detail

Good quality and detail, no issues.

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7. Colours

Perfect. Really excellent. Again, Aeroclassics seem to have improved greatly on their colour choices.

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8.Score and conclusions

Accuracy

  • -2 for the blue line over the wing root, it’s not the end of the world but it’s not right
  • -3 for lack of aerials (1 per major aerial, two up, one under)
  • -2 for lack of key roof markings
  • -3 for those tyres on a spigot – that’s not what the real thing’s wheels look like
  • -2 for silver engine fans
  • 38/50 for accuracy

Quality

  • -4 for the inner engine rims, and rear engine rims, the silver paint is too thick and blobby; not very neat.
  • 46/50 for quality

84% Overall score is good

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To most of us this model is perfectly adequate, but as I said last year, detail and accuracy are where the best models are now competing. I know some people won’t even buy models now without aerials, and while I haven’t gone that far, the price of these things continues to climb so expectations rise.

Aeroclassics quality has gone up – as is evidenced by their win of the 2017 Model of The Year, but still improvements can always be made. Nothing stands still and the competition certainly isn’t. A320’s are an area all of the manufacturers struggle with in one way or another.

Gemini/JCW have the worst mould, its too fat and the engines are hideous on the neo’s. Phoenix have varying levels of quality finish, the mould isn’t too bad. AC have the best mould but decline to meet customer standards and expectations, as time goes on only unusual releases like this, are their saving grace. It certainly isn’t their landing gear or the lack of details.

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My recommendation: If unusual modern airlines are intertesting for you, this is one you’ll need to have; it’s unlikely it will ever be repeated by anyone else. It’s unusal nature makes it worth putting up with no aerials on this ocassion. However its price is the same as or almost equals any of its competitors now, so the only things it has going for it are mould shape and the uniquness of the subject. 

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