Air Belgium is one of several airlines that have rediscovered the usefulness of the A340-300 in a second life.
Recently Spain’s PlusUltra took on the type and Swiss, far from ditching them wholesale as 777’s arrive, has decided to keep a handful until around 2025, going so far as to refurbish them to its current standards. Those it has disposed of in most cases, have gone to its subsidiary Edelweiss.
The A343 is a good choice if you want to carry a reasonable number of passengers a good distance. Part of the problem is that A330’s in the used market are very expensive, and the A343 gains in cheaper leasing or purchase costs; even though it’s about 25% more expensive to operate. In addition, many of them are surprisingly young, the four Air Belgium operate, OO-ABA, ANN, ABD and ABE, are all A340-313’s between 10.3 and 11.5 years old at the time or writing – that’s little more than half their lives.
All four are formerly Finnair, this one OH-LQB originally delivered on 25 May 2007, configured with 45 business, 40 economy comfort and 172 standard economy.
Air Belgium leased the aircraft from Airbus Financial Services in February 2018 after almost two years in storage, but reconfigured them to 18 business, 21 premium and 264 economy seats. They retain the original 4 x CFM56-5C4/P engines.
The airline was founded in 2016 and spent two years getting itself ready. The business profile according to its founder – a long-term aviation professional by the name of Niky Terzakis, who ran ASL Belgium, later TNT Airways – was to fly to China, starting with Hong Kong.
Belgium’s connectivity with the country is limited and requires travel to one of the major European hubs, so the market seemed attractive, especially flying out of Brussels-Charleroi South Airport.
The Hong Kong operation never materialised because the airline couldn’t get over-flight rights for Russia. If any of you have read some of my missives on the subject on Aviationnews.online, you’ll know that every single over-flight requires a permanent licence and each flight individual permission and advanced transit fee payment. Russia uses the money to subsidise Aeroflot to the tune of nearly $1 billion a year. Russia’s military aggressions, spying, hacking and poisonings have meant sanctions – one of the few material ways they can get back at the west is making new transit licences harder to get, but they are normally granted because of the income flow.
However this has so far proven immaterial to the airline. Their first flights were for Surinam Airways (who use A343’s) on wet lease from Amsterdam, then the second aircraft was deployed to Air France for the entire summer season, flying Paris CDG to Libreville in Gabon, Central West Africa. The growing 787 Rolls Royce issue has ended up with a long-term wet lease to BA flying daily to Cairo from Heathrow, and the airline announced it wouldn’t even bother with the Hong Kong routes until Summer 2019, all of its aircraft were busy on wet leases and charters.
The livery is basically a version of the Belgian national flag, which is vertical red, yellow and black bars. The crown and colours are a direct attempt to make it the flag carrier for Belgian aviation.
You have to hand it to Phoenix with this one, I don’t think I have ever seen so many under-belly aerials on a civil model! Three up top and no less than four underneath, is a remarkable level of detail, even more so when three of them are very close together.
The print and paint finish is accurate and exceptionally sharp in definition. No runs, blurs or marks, and the technical detail is superb across the board. In fact it’s really quite exceptional.
The Phoenix A330/340 fuselage has had problems in the past as the mould aged, and the wings wouldn’t always lock properly through their slot-ins. For the most part this was fixed but this one shows the problem may be coming back, with the right wing not as flush as it should be with the body. The left wing is fine.
Phoenix still insist on using over-glossy paint rather than a more realistic matt/silk finish. The consequences of that are despite the moulds having detail, the paint as so often, tends to swamp it.
I’m delighted to see somebody at Phoenix has noticed that this aircraft doesn’t have brilliant silver leading edges either, and the model reflects that, so a positive result there!
The sharklets are also well one, with the tricolour flag on the inner and outer surfaces.
3. Landing gear
All present and correct! All the wheels operate and the tyres are in good condition, nose gear is very good. The only downside is it’s all a little to brightly silvered.
The nacelles are exceptionally detailed and carry the AB logo. The intake rims are exceptionally neat and, shock horror but, at last, we have dark titanium fans! Yes, it’s not a joke, we have actually got fans that are the real colour! And the joy never stops, because the rear exhaust rims and inner cones are also, the correct colour! And they’re really neat too!
It’s actually really simple but Phoenix have managed all of the fine details in an exemplary fashion, including the extended ‘bat mask’ to the cockpit glass.
Neat, tidy, superbly put together and painted, no issues.
Exceptional accuracy, and so they should be for such simple straightforward and well-known colours.
8.Score and conclusions
- -2 Over-silvered landing gear
48/50 for Accuracy
- -4 for the improperly fitted wing; it’s not a massive issue, but it needs addressing before it worsens in future models
46/50 for Quality
Overall score: 94%
You do have to wonder how Phoenix can manage something so very excellent one minute and not the next, but this is really an outstanding model and deserves praise. It’s odd how effective Phoenix are at producing high quality A343’s – the HiFly Mirpuri Foundation A343 in black was another exceptional model.
An absolutely must have model, a delight to see and own.