1:400 Review of 2017: Phoenix
For previous annual reviews of Phoenix see:
Who are Phoenix?
Phoenix are an Asian based manufacturer of 1:200 and 1:400 scale die-cast models run by a woman called Phoenix Law. They have historically had a production relationship with Gemini Jets but that is no longer the case and of all the major 1:400 manufacturers they appear the most isolated in the sense that they don't seem to make models for others or have a particularly strong presence on forums or social media. They can be contacted through Facebook as I understand it but they are the only manufacturer I've never had any contact with.
Below is a selection of 35 2017 releases from Phoenix:
What do they make?
Phoenix are unashamedly interested mainly in Asian aircraft. The home Chinese market is especially important and they are in strong competition with Aeroclassics, JC Wings and Panda Models for the Chinese Yuan. Even so they do make significant numbers of models for major European airlines and are not against producing quite a wide geographical range, including African airliners, at times, and especially if the livery is colourful. The releases are almost 100% modern and usually new aircraft/livery combinations. It is not unusual, indeed it is expected, that if there is a new livery or widebody aircraft for a major Asian airline, or a special scheme for a European major, that it'll appear in the next month's Phoenix releases. As you'd expect this means there is a lot of overlap with other 1:400 scale manufacturers.
Unlike Gemini, Phoenix rarely appear to make models for airline corporate orders and generally seem to care less about getting permission from the airlines to make models. This is possibly one of the reasons for so few US releases from them.
Phoenix Production in 2017
Phoenix are a major producer of models in 1:400 with 152 releases in 2017. There may be a couple more since it is hard to keep track of Cathay group releases nowadays due to the threatened legal action from Cathay. This hasn't stopped Phoenix from making them but they are often hidden at retailers or unbranded. As you'd expect nearly two thirds of the releases are Asian with about two fifths of them Chinese. One area almost completely absent is the USA. There was only a single US airline release in 2017 (a UPS 748F) although the rest of North America did get some love.
By Aircraft Type
To say Phoenix are not adventurous is something of an understatement. As in previous years they have used by far the lowest number of moulds - only 23. This is a decrease on 2015 and 2016 even when you take into account the 'new' A320neo and A321neo moulds, which are really just new engines on the same old moulds. In fact considering that the neos have been around so long Phoenix have been quite late to the party with their 'new' moulds for these types.
I've reviewed several of the better Phoenix moulds at Diecast Flier:
What is especially disappointing again is that like Gemini they show little interest in creating anything unique. The vast majority of Phoenix releases are made by multiple other manufacturers. In terms of aircraft types Phoenix does have access to some nice Russian types but as I have moaned about before they are totally ignored. There wasn't a single 1:400 Tupolev or Ilyushin in 2017 and as unusual as we got was a single MD-80. That might be nice except their MD-80 mould is poor and the livery bland.
On a more pleasing note Phoenix have only graced us with a single 747-400 and a single 747-400F on their shockingly bad moulds in 2017. I'm sure this isn't because they realise it is a turd but only because 747s are so rare nowadays, but still.
There aren't a lot of surprises with Phoenix's choice of airlines either. The usual Chinese majors feature heavily although some of the second tier Chinese carriers (like Shenzhen and Beijing Capital) have seen more favour this year. This is probably due to them both acquiring widebodies and getting attention from Panda models who have released heavily for these airlines. Alas Phoenix' belated response is quite weak across the board since all of their 737, A320 and now A330 moulds are inferior to Pandas.
Outside of China it is the same airlines as every year - Asian majors (Singapore, All Nippon, Malaysia, Thai, Cathay). Phoenix has been tracking A350 deliveries so there is a more interesting range of airlines here at least.
If Phoenix has a specialty of its own then it is probably that of low cost airlines. They have and continue to regularly release a decent range of secondary airlines from Asia like T'Way Air, Scoot, Jin Air, AirAsia, Malindo, Batik Air and the entertainly named Air Seoul (say it fast English speakers :) ). Europe also gets a look in with carriers like Wizz Air, Jet2 and Wow Air.
One country that Phoenix has seemingly taken a shine to in 2017 is Mexico. Of the 24 releases in the 'other' category in the table above 9 are from Mexico. They feature VivaAerobus, Aeromexico, Volaris and even some Mexicana (are these now classics??). That's an interesting move but once again Phoenix is often just retreading areas already covered by Gemini or Aeroclassics.
If you're looking for unusual airlines there isn't a lot on offer. There have however been several A340s. An unusually timed Conviasa (Aeroclassics already made this a few years back) plus Hi-Fly and Air Leisure Egypt are this year's walk on the wild side.
A350s Improved (a little)
Phoenix has an A350 with a better nose profile than JC Wings but in 2016 also one that had major issues with engine ground clearance. These seem to have been largely solved in 2017 but the mould still has poor pylons and overly long undercarriage. This means it has been up to the collector which mould errors they prefer when they determine whether to buy the JC Wings/Gemini offerings or go with Phoenix (the subjects almost always overlap). An A350-1000 has been announced but given Phoenix's recent form I don't expect it will be any different to the 900 when it comes to issues. The arrival of the Aviation400 A350 means Phoenix really need to step up their game in 2018. From what I have seen the new A350 is better by some distance.
I have reviewed a Phoenix A350-900 at Diecast Flier.
737s - Back from the Dead?
As I reported last year Phoenix modified their 737-800 so the nosegear sat very high and in the wrong place. Already Phoenix struggled regularly to print the cockpit windows accurately and in combination with the new nosegear they successfully turned an ordinary mould into 1:400s worst active moulding. It appears that Phoenix are blind as they continued producing some awful dreck well into 2017, doubling down by making 22 largely awful 737s. There may be some small redemption at hand however as it looks like the last few 737s of the year return to having something approaching normal nosegear again.
I reviewed a typical Phoenix 737-800 at the Diecast Flier.
Did Phoenix recognise there was an issue? Or was the whole thing just a quality screwup all along? Who knows - with Phoenix almost anything is possible. They still can't print the cockpit windows properly however and the majority of the time why you'd buy a Phoenix 737-800 over a JC Wings or Panda is beyond me.
There is a 737 MAX-8 mould coming in 2018 but I just know they are going to produce a pile of rubbish. It has been a long long time since Phoenix produced an excellent new narrowbody mould and I honestly don't think they have the ability anymore.
To neo or not to neo
Phoenix have been late to the game with an updated A320 and A321 to make a new engine option variant. But don't worry, in a sign that Phoenix can innovate, they have come up with a killer feature - spinning fan blades. Hurray just what we'd all been calling out for - or not. Now personally I'd prefer that that they improved their ordinary existing A320/321 to make the neo better. They have not done so and their A321 persists in having the wrong wing attached to it. The spinning fanblades are ok but in reality just window dressing. They do little to make me want to buy the Phoenix model. Yes the Phoenix A320 still beats the JC Wings effort easily but against Aeroclassics and Panda it is inferior. Phoenix don't care - they have spinning fanblades.
I have reviewed a Phoenix A321neo at Diecast Flier.
Quality & Print
Phoenix had improved in 2016 and this has stabilised into 2017. That means Phoenix are now about as bad as everyone else rather than worse than them. There are still too many instances of tyre tabs and flashing on undercarriage but the once common smudging and fingerprints are a lot rarer. Having said that with Phoenix you are still likely to get a model with parts unattached due to lack of glue and that simply isn't good enough:
There has also been a continuance of the annoying inability to fit the wings properly so that there isn't a big gap at the rear between them and the fuselage. Plus it seems there is quite a lot of variability in production with some models perfect and others with scratches, bumps and hairs. Check out this DAC thread for photos and discussion:
Phoenix 1:400 Issues
Almost as annoying for me is laziness with production. You'd think that if they have made one model in January for Air Caraibes that the one in March would show the same level of livery detailing. You'd be wrong. How can they regress so far between models. The A330 below has excellent detailing on the tail but the A350 has almost none:
My Purchases in 2017
I buy a lot of modern Chinese aircraft, but not from Phoenix. With the competition at Aeroclassics, JC Wings and Panda so strong I don't often need to take a chance on Phoenix. Nonetheless 12 of the 138 models purchased this year are from their stable. There are some moulds I can recommend (A330, A380, 777, 787), some I can recommend with caution (A320, A321, A350) and some I wouldn't touch with a bargepole (737, 747).
Below are some of my Phoenix purchases from 2017:
Worst of the Year
Almost all the 737-800s are rubbish but as with Gemini and its neos I'll pick just one for the worst of list. The Phoenix 747-400 and 400F continues to look dreadful whilst the Air Caraibes gets in for the poor attention to livery detail. The surprise inclusion is the Air China 77W. It's a great mould but what is going on with the cockpit windows?
Best of the Year
The strength at Phoenix remains its widebodies and when the stars align there are gems to be had. Certainly Phoenix A330s, A380s, 747-8s and 777s are usually safe bets. It is also nice to see an A340-500 and be reminded how good the mould is and see it outcompete JC Wings similar offering across the board.
Summing Up: Monkey See, Monkey Do
Phoenix are hardly pushing the boundaries in 1:400 scale anymore. In fact sometimes it seems they are barely awake. As with Gemini you can often guess their releases in advance but despite this there is just enough to make a lot of their models attractive.
Nonetheless if I were Phoenix I would be concerned. Every year they stand still and the lead they once had is eroded away. In 2017 other manufacturers have spent big and created better widebody moulds than they have, the Phoenix narrowbodies have always been weak, the pool of moulds is small and Phoenix's attention to detail and quality control is often poor. This surely doesn't bode well for the future and there is little sign that Phoenix are looking to improve. I don't have high hopes for 2018 and expect Phoenix to continue to truck along as normal in the new year.
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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: