Unfortunately we’re only a few days into 2021 and we already have our first major airline crash. Keeping it brief, here’s the basics of what we know:

The airline: Sriwijaya Air is an Indonesian low-cost carrier that has operated since the early 2000s, with domestic and a few short international routes. The airline has had a few runway overrun accidents, but nothing like this before. However the Indonesian low-cost carrier segment as a whole, which has been growing like wildfire to accommodate demand in its developing home country, has been fraught with safety issues.

A 737-500 operated by Sriwijaya Air subsidiary NAM Air – from the airline website

The airplane: The aircraft involved was a 26-year-old Boeing 737-500 with the registration PK-CLC. It was first operated by Continental Airlines, and came to Sriwijaya later in its life. Of course, this is not a 737 MAX. It’s from a generation of the 737 lineage with a longstanding great safety record overall. So far, most of the mainstream media coverage we’ve seen has made that distinction clear, which we’re glad to see (for the sake of keeping unnecessary hysteria to a minimum).

The flight, SJ182: The flight had 62 people on board. All that we know about the five-minute flight for now is from flight tracker data, and it looks like the plane lost over 10,000 feet of altitude in less than a minute, four minutes into the flight. A trajectory like that suggests something significantly worse than an engine loss or minor malfunction. Other losses of aircraft with pre-crash trajectories like that have been affected by things like bombs, unrecovered stalls, or a truly catastrophic level of damage to the airframe. As for what happened in this case, it’s far too early to speculate. There was definitely some bad weather in the area, though we don’t have granular enough data to know exactly what was going on around the plane at the point it began its dive.

Courtesy of FlightRadar24 – flightradar24.com

Wreckage has been spotted in the water, and it does not appear likely that there are any survivors. Our thoughts go out to the passengers and crew lost, and their families. We’ll be keeping an eye on the news, though airline incident investigations are thorough and often take some time to yield definitive findings.

Are you in the mood for a trip down to South America? I was down in Brazil last year and got my first chance to fly a couple of local airlines. Brazil-based GOL Airlines was one of them. It isn’t a well known name outside of South America, but GOL is actually Brazil’s largest airline, with over a third of the country’s market share. It has hubs in multiple Brazilian cities. And of note for AvGeeks, it’s a 100% Boeing 737 fleet — mostly next-gen -700s and -800s, but also a few new MAXes.

My flight with them was a short hop from Rio to Iguazu Falls — a bread-and-butter short-haul service. Along the way I got to sample the Rio lounge scene and get some gorgeous window seat views of Brazil from the air. Read on for the full scoop, and see if you’d be game to give GOL a go.

Air France 777

Just like the 2020 Olympics, the AvGeek sports circuit has been on hold while we’ve been socially distancing. What AvGeek sports circuit, you might ask? Well, there’s the 100m sprint to the gate, the luggage toss, and of course the “stuck-in-the-window-seat-with-someone-sleeping-in-the-aisle-seat-so-hold-your-pee-in-for-as-long-as-you-can” challenge. But there is one sport we can still enjoy from the comfort of our couches: the head-to-head trip report battle royale, where we pit parter airlines against each other and see which one comes out on top. We did this a while back with five Star Alliance airlines. And now it’s time for the FlyingBlue brothers to square off in the ring.

In one corner we have Air France, which we flew from Sao Paulo to Paris on a Boeing 777-200ER. And in the other corner we have Dutch flag-carrier KLM, which brought us from San Francisco to Amsterdam on a shiny new 787-9 Dreamliner. We already published the separate trip reports on each flight (which we flew last year, BTW). Now it’s time to see how the duo compares in categories like seat comfort, service, dining, and amenities. In the end, there can only be one winner. Read on to find out which airline takes the crown!

Success! I finally earned my private pilot certificate!

Success! I finally earned my private pilot certificate!

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

After a year and a half of concerted effort, I’ve finally completed my initial training and earned my private pilot certificate in early November. It’s a great feeling!

For those who’ve been following along on my adventures at Galvin Flying, it’s been a long process of successes and setbacks, many of which were weather related because I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the local joke says that it only rains once a year — it starts raining in late October and stops raining on July 5 (it always seems to rain on July 4).

In case you ever wondered what the track of a checkride looks like, here you go

In case you ever wondered what the track of a checkride looks like, here you go. Screen capture courtesy FlightRadar24

Anyway, I did several mock checkrides in the weeks leading up to the actual FAA one, and had to complete Galvin’s end-of-course checkride before that. The end-of-course checks are designed to be more difficult than the actual checkride to ensure that pilot candidates are as prepared as possible.

The FAA examiner, also known as a designated pilot examiner or DPE, selects from a long list of information and flight maneuvers for the actual checkride known as the Airman Certification Standards. The check airman who oversees the end-of-course checks runs through the entire list to be sure you’re ready.