For previous annual reviews of Panda Models see:
I report regularly on Panda releases because nobody else does. Check out the Panda category on the other blog.
Who are Panda Models?
See here for the early history and controversy surrounding Panda Models:
Who they actually are is unclear especially now there is this new lot around calling themselves NG models. Are they separate or are they Panda in disguise? What exactly is the relationship with Skywings and how does HYJLwings fit in? These are all good questions and the answers at the moment obscure. I think this will be a developing story in 2018 and I don't have enough information yet to go into it here in detail. I was under the impression before that Panda made the models and made some for Skywings and HYJLwings. This may be true still or it maybe more complicated.
Me and Panda
There is no me and Panda. I'm sick of having to defend myself for talking about them but I will say once again for the hard of hearing I have no connection to them at all. They do not send me free models, or any models in fact, to get good reviews. I'm not against them sending me free models (please do so Panda if you're reading this) but even if they did it wouldn't impact my reviews of them. The only free model I have received from a manufacturer was the RTAF A340 from JC Wings and that got the worst review score of all the JC Wings I reviewed last year! I felt a bit bad about that and apologised to JC.
As it is nobody at Panda seems to speak English so contact has proven impossible. They have become a major player in the 1:400 space since they started up in 2015 and I'll be damned if I'm going to ignore them because certain people want me too for their own ends.
What do they make?
Panda started out making almost entirely Chinese airliners for the Chinese domestic marketplace and have had a strong relationship with the Gunagzhou model store Skywings for whom they produce models (Skywings also use JC Wings). Gradually in 2017 they have expanded into non-Asian markets and have significantly increased their production of European and other non-Asian releases. The majority of the releases are modern types but at least for Chinese airliners there is a streak of more classic (1990s) era releases often due to Skywings influence.
Panda & Skywings Production in 2017
For this review I'll combine together Panda's own releases and those they have made for Skywings. Combined this comes to an impressive 114 models, which is more than Gemini Jets. However it should be noted that Panda regularly produces multiple versions of the same aircraft/livery combination and the production runs are a lot smaller (around 120 or so models). Panda is still expanding though and the 2017 total is 30 models higher than in 2016.
Below is a selection of 2017s A320ceos both series 100s and 200s:
Geographically the largest focus is still Chinese where nowadays Panda has announced less models only than JC Wings. Even then it has released more than JC Wings has due to JC's chronic release delays.
Below is a selection of 2017's 737-800s including the recent model made for an Indonesian hobbyshop - see Indonesia One: Air Shop's Panda Exclusive:
By Aircraft Type
Panda being newish have easily the smallest mould catalogue of the top 5 1:400 manufacturers. Whereas the A320 and A330 moulds maybe tainted for some by the suggestion of piracy from Aeroclassics the rest of the moulds are clearly homegrown. Even though Panda has shown a primary interest in Chinese airliners this hasn't stopped them experimenting with new types and they have the only moulds for the Chinese manufactured ARJ21, C919 and Y-20. They were also the first to release an A330-200F.
I've reviewed the A330-200F at Diecast Flier here.
Below are a selection of Panda and Skywings 737-300s and A330s. I've reviewed the 737-300 and A330-300 at Diecast Flier.
Interestingly mirroring their fall from grace operationally worldwide the two moulds Panda has that haven't seen any use in 2017 are the A319 and 737-700. New moulds include the aforementioned 737 MAX-8 and the pair of Comacs.
Panda appear to operate with impunity despite allegedly stealing moulds and IP from Aeroclassics. It is therefore not very surprising that they also have ignored Cathay Pacific’s attempts to close down production and resale of models of their aircraft. Indeed Panda has doubled down on Cathay releases this year with 13 releases of Cathay group airlines. Ten of these have utilised the A330 moulds – who knew there were so many Cathay livery variants! Creating models like the Dragonair with the Cathay nosecone is either showing enterprise or plumbing the depths depending on your perspective.
See New Trends: Nosecones & Pre-delivery Aircraft
Comac ARJ-21 & Y-20 Kunpeng
Panda models interest in China’s homegrown aviation assets is unique but breaks the monotony of a steady stream of Boeings and Airbuses at least. The aircraft themselves are not likely to prove to be world beaters but the moulds Panda is using are excellent. Obviously there aren’t currently many possible liveries the models can have but Panda has released a blank version of the ARJ-21 as well as the test aircraft.
One of the new moulds in 2017 has been the Airbus A340 and I admit to being rather underwhelmed by this choice. It was no doubt economical to make an A340-300 given that Panda already has an A330-300 but there aren’t many liveries left to be made on the type. Accordingly the mould has only been used 4 times for Air China variants that are all extremely similar to each other.
Interestingly Panda aren’t the only manufacturer to have made an A340 in 2017 with Aviation400 also creating one. If anything there mould is as good or better and they have used it more widely even if for the same small range of expected Asian airlines. I am surprised that no Cathay A340s have been produced by Panda, however both JC Wings and Aviation400 have been their recently.
Neos and MAXes
Panda were first to market with an A320neo and given its parentage it unsurprisingly looks identical to the Aeroclassics neo. That means it is excellent but also suffers from having a nosewheel that is too small. Panda’s usage hasn’t been as wide as that of Aeroclassics however it has released a couple of Airbus house colours variants. It has also recently slipped out a couple of Easyjet neos (along with some ceos) which are already in high demand due to their rarity and Easyjet’s litigious nature when it comes to anyone using their identity without their permission.
I've reveiwed a Panda NEO at Diecast Flier here.
Panda produced the first 737 MAX-8 mould in 1:400 scale and has used its advantage here (only JC Wings have a currently active mould) to produce 17 MAXes. Nonetheless the releases stick close to Panda’s home market. Five of the releases are in various Boeing house colour schemes whilst another was the Panda model of the year and another an Air China pre-delivery example in primer.
Of the other 12 made five have represented Lion and its subsidiaries, two Silk Air and the remainder Chinese airlines. So despite being the number one manufacturer for this type Panda has played it quite safe and avoided making other MAX operators like American Airlines, Norwegian and Southwest. It would be even better if they ventured towards more obscure operators like Aerolineas Argentinas and FlyDubai who could be supported by the smaller Panda production runs if they had an adequate distribution network.
I've reviewed a Panda MAX at Diecast Flier here.
Skywings & JC Wings
Skywings doesn't just use Panda models. They have also made 10 models with JC Wings this year using 5 different moulds (747SP, 757-200, 767-200, CRJ900 & MD-90. The releases are often parroted by JC Wings too but I think there is little reason to believe that it is Skywings that is the reason the models are being made.
Below are some of Skywings collaborations with JC Wings:
Distribution continues to be the Achilles heel of Panda and a major reason most of their models remain unheard of by a lot of the collectorate. They have produced a selection of models (Lufthansa and Singapore A330s, EasyJet A320s) that have wide appeal but the majority of their releases are simply not of interest outside of Asia and especially within the USA. This doesn’t seem to bother them much but can be frustrating if you want to pick up a model of theirs and is limiting their appeal with the usual distribution avenues.
There has been some movement here however too. I get most of my Panda and Skywings models from the Skywings taobao shop (indirectly at least) while the Chinese eBay seller lhx.scu is a regular stockist also. The prices at the latter are relatively high whilst buying through the mechanism I do adds a variety of middleman fees. Outside of China Moons Mailorder (an English eBay seller) regularly has Panda releases whilst Aviation Retail Direct also has had some too. Lastly in Australia Hobby Club Australia also gets Panda and Skywings releases.
Summary: Great but ???
Panda has had another good year in 2017 however the lack of clarity about who they are and what they do is annoying. They appear to have consolidated a strong place in the Chinese domestic market but most of the edgier and more interesting releases are due to Skywings rather than Panda directly. The models themselves have been largely excellent and certainly the quality of the moulds and printing is very good. I rarely receive a poor quality model from Panda although no doubt the lower volumes and smaller mould catalogue help here.
I'd love Panda to do something different but I doubt they'll ever venture too far from their Chinese roots. They now have the only decent 737-300 but both classics and certainly non-Chinese classics appear firmly off the table. They also appear happy to compete mainly in the narrowbody space, which is relatively poorly served by manufacturers and good moulds. Will they continue on this form or feel the need to compete with more widebodies as new players like Aviation400 come onto the scene?
Lastly are they NG Models? If they are they look like they are doing something different. I just don't know the answer. I'll try and keep you updated if I learn more. Notice for example I don't discuss the Comac C919 in detail in this review. That is because I can't work out whose mould it actually is!
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: