Until Qatar take delivery of their first 777-X this is probably the last Qatar Airways model I’ll review as new unless they produce a special livery. There is one other waiting in reserve but it’s not a new aircraft.
The aircraft is supposed to be delivered as I write on 22nd February 2018. The date was originally scheduled for early December 2017 – but the never happy Qatari’s this time couldn’t blame Airbus for the delay. It’s the new business class seating that’s been causing the problem – the allegedly revolutionary “Q-Suite”. Revolutionary is a word over used to describe something at best evolutionary, by over-active marketeers with no concept of what revolutions really are .
The new Q-Suite being rolled out on the A35K is due to find its way into all Qatar aircraft over the coming years. It’s certainly one of the best business seats ever deployed by anyone, but unless it has seat-to-seat transporters or Star Trek style food replicators on demand, a revolution it most certainly is not.
It’s basically a block of four seats that face each other but that can be opened or closed up to be private or in conference/family dining modes. And they have doors. Business people who fly business class become aroused at the thought of such things – you only have to pop into some of the forums to find out how one-upmanship in business travel is the modern sport of the business traveller.
I’ve gone on about this because this is the ultimate marketing tool in Qatar’s armoury and the new A35K needs to have seats filled – it’s a bitterly competitive business in the Gulf states – even more so now the blockade appears to have become permanent.
The A35K is fitted with 46 Q-Suites, and 281 economy – Gulf airlines find no market for Premium Economy style seating.
Fortunately, and despite the frequent problems with too-quick-to-market models, this one had the advantage of at least having seen the completed aircraft in photographs, and a formal final registration.
Phoenix have an opportunity to make it as good, in the many ways that JC Wings have, but they have an advantage that JCW refused to amend despite its blatant inaccuracy – a mis-shaped nose section that isn’t even vaguely like the real thing. JCW jumped into the A359 mould before Airbus finalized the design and changed the nose. Phoenix didn’t get it spot on, but it’s vastly better than on the JCW/Gemini offering. That JCW couldn’t be bothered to correct their mistake on their A35K is simply cheap skate.
Phoenix have had far too many problems with their A359 production. It arrived as excellent in 2016 and devolved until it became a laughing-stock in early 2017. Later in the year it picked back up. I’ve nervously awaited the arrival of the Phoenix A35K – this is the one that matters to my collecting heart most of all. British Airways, Etihad and Virgin Atlantic will all be getting them, so Phoenix need to get it right.
Air Caraibes: 3, Virgin Atlantic: 8, Air Lease: 9, Asiana: 10, LATAM: 12, JAL: 13, Iran Air: 16, BA: 18, Cathay Pacific: 20, Etihad: 22, Qatar: 37, Undisclosed private sale: 1.
Totalling just 169, it’s not really very many compared to the 681 current orders for the A359. However I suspect it will find favour as time goes on, especially with those wanting to replace A380’s past ten years old who feel its days may be over.
In size terms it’s as big as the current 777-300ER and certainly a match for the 777-9. It’s also gaining from in-service operational discoveries that are improving its economy, and Airbus have committed to a programme of rolling upgrades rather than just leave it fixed at a point in time like the A380.
This has already resulted in the first A359’s for Iberia in 2018 and future A35K’s benefitting from 30% taller wing tips and a 1.2% fuel saving. Will the model makers modify their moulds to accommodate the change I wonder? In any event the A359ULR will have them as standard.
I’m actually quite surprised. There’s been an improvement in packing materials inside the boxes (not just on this model either) – the plastic cradle is thicker, there was more plastic sheeting to protect the model than in the past – and all three models in this delivery were intact.
The quality – always the first thing we assess with speed, is looking like it might be very high. First impressions count and they’re very good.
The stretch is considerable – equal to the entire length of the nose and two window frames back behind Door 1 on an A359, in additional length. It’s also non-standard in door layout. The gap between door one and door two isn’t the generally accepted distance set by most Airbus and Boeing models (even the A380) and equals the only other oddity, the A340-600 in spacing. Indeed it’s the same length more or less as an A346. This has diorama implications – having to adjust the air bridges becomes awkward and, is at best, fidly! One can only hope that, as with the 787-9, many airlines don’t use door one because the air bridge canopies snarl up the sensors too easily.
The roof is festooned with detail, three aerials – all white with invisible holes, and inserted beautifully at the correct angles. A smaller moulded-in dome sits at the front just forward of the first aerial, correctly painted grey (it was very light grey on the A359).
The much larger dome on the rear of the roof is a substantial white tear-drop, and I’m delighted to say it’s moulded perfectly to the roof, and fits superbly. Painted separately it looks like a superb quality addition. So often these have been a problem in the past.
Logos, doors, windows and technical print on both sides are entirely in keeping with the few images available, and printed to a high degree of clarity and precision. The same can be said for all of the under-body detail which, as well as having two aerials, has over a dozen small details printed onto it.
However everything isn’t perfect. The problem areas are the transitions from grey to white. Phoenix seems to have an issue with the concept of a straight line. It’s not a concern from a distance, but looking at the rear quarters particularly, the line wobbles its way backwards. It’s not much better over the wings and while not as bad at the nose end, it certainly isn’t perfect.
To my mind that sort of detail is where it really matters. Hold it up and look at it side on, and immediately, even at arm’s length, you can see how uneven the rear grey/white between doors 3 and 4 is. It isn’t good enough. How can you get all this detail applied at such a high level of quality but cannot even manage a straight line between the two primary fuselage colours?
Great moulds, no issues there, the fins especially are excellent (and this time the correct colour on the inner face with the ibex logo, that was all burgundy on the A359 A7-ALA model).
The problems are in the paint choices. On the A359 model the wing centres are Qatar fuselage grey, the wing edges a mid-grey. On the A35K they’re plain light grey all over and have no markings. The reality is that both of these are wrong.
They’re actually light grey all over like the A35K but have a black line to mark out the centre walk/don’t walk panel – the wording painted in a fuselage grey colour. Both models are inaccurate, although other than the black line on the A35K which is missing, it’s much closer to being right. The A359 is totally wrong.
The next aspect is the silver leading edges – they’re too bright. Not only is it too bright, it’s been applied to almost all of the leading edge panels above and below, where in real life it’s actually very thin margin at the very thinnest part of the forward edge, only thickening towards the wing root.
First the pylons. They’ve been painted the same colour as the wings, but they should be white so they match the lower fuselage. The lower quarter is a dark ‘bare metal’ look because the exhaust would burn off or discolour any paint. Only the lower section is catered for and it’s a little bit too bright, but that’s being picky.
The pylons don’t appear to be the correct shape, because the engine fit problem Phoenix have never properly resolved, means they have to push the engine higher up the pylon end to maintain ground clearance. They should curve down into the engines (as they do on the A359). The metal paint at the end of the pylon as it curves into the engine casing is only on the A350-1000, I’ve not seen it on the A359. Enquiries lead me to understand that the higher thrust required a strengthening point, and lessons from the A359 showed more paint wear than was expected, so it’s unpainted titanium now.
The engines are the see-through type as usual, with darker silver coloured fans – still too light, but at least not toy-like silver. The rims are excellent as are the nacelles and their attached logo, as well as the exhaust cones.
The first thing that has to be mentioned is how much higher off the ground the A35K stands. It’s not an illusion either caused by the higher engines. The gear is noticeably higher by almost 2mm. In 1:400 scale that’s an 800mm (2.62ft) lift! Frankly it looks better for it.
The nose gear is thin and delicate and frankly lacks strength. It’s not well fitted and wobbles about in its housing. As you’re probably aware, the doors are the casing for the gear hydraulics, and that’s inserted into the fuselage. This is quite loose, but wouldn’t come out when coaxed. Tyres are a little bit big, but that’s not an issue in itself. Nose gear hydraulics are silver, which is OK.
The main gear has two six-wheeled bogies rather that two four-wheeled bogies on the A359. The bogies rotate easily through about 240 degrees, but all 12 wheels are very stiff and three of the tyres had huge sprigs of moulding sticking out of them. Yes it can be trimmed off – but it shouldn’t be there in the first place!
The main gear is painted silver when it should be mostly light grey.
5. Nose detail
Generally outstanding, it’s a better shape and full of excellent detail with Picot tubes and sensors clearly marked and excellent cockpit windows. It’s the not quite straight paint line wite/grey that mildly irritates.
Superbly assembled and painted. The thin leading edge silver is exactly right, unlike that on the wings. No issues.
Principle colours are all good, the grey, burgundy, and so on. The wing colour is passable.
8.Score and conclusions
- -4 for the excessive silver leading wing edges
- -2 for over-silver hydraulics
- -2 for still too-light-a-colour engine fans
- -2 for the engine pylon fit
- -4 for the engine pylon colour – should match the white fuselage not the grey wing
38/50 for accuracy
- -3 for wheels with lumpy sprigs of rubber
- -6 for the wobbly paint lines
- -2 for the loose-fitting nose gear
39/50 for quality
77% Overall score – puts it into the ‘GOOD’ category
While this is one of those models from a distance that you could easily pass off as perfectly OK, the devil is, as always, in the details. The wings are an improvement that make the A359 model look very wrong. Indeed the older model looks worse the more you see it with the A35K.
The problems with both manufacturers stem, and always have, from the fact they made mistakes from the very beginning in a desperate rush to market. The result is a JCW/Gemini that has a Dreamliner-esque nose and a Phoenix that has never had the right engine pylons or gear combination causing all sorts of problems with height that persist to this day.
This model is an evolutionary step, but it hasn’t advanced, it’s merely stepped sideways and taken a slightly different route.
My recommendation:for the price it’s still good value and it’s not a terrible model by a wide margin. Qatar is a popular airline for collectors and little will stop them selling. A cautious buy.
Having seen the JCW/Gemini version of an A35K, it’s a little better here and a bit worse there, you pay’s your money and takes your pick. One thing is sure; if the ever-fussy CEO of Qatar saw one of these models – he’d throw it right back in your face.