Netflix documentary film “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing”, which was released two days ago, may make you think twice about getting on a Boeing airplane. As many of you know, the Boeing Company dominated the airplane manufacture industry for several decades since the era of the Jet Age began in the middle of the 20th century, but a couple devastating accidents in 2018 exposed what was going seriously wrong inside the company. Mainly pursuing for more profit and stock market value, the company willfully discarded its safety and manufacture standards step by step, and the resulting negligence tarnished its prestigious status a lot in the end.
At the beginning, the documentary focuses on what tragically happened on October 29th, 2018. Shortly after taking off from the Soekarno–Hatta International Airport, Indonesia, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea, and that resulted in the death of all of 189 passengers and crew aboard. This was a big shocking news mainly because that airplane was the latest model from Boeing and, above all, it was actually manufactured only several months ago.
Garima Sethi, the widow of Lion Air Captain Bhavye Suneja, calmly tells us how everything looked fine and normal during her last morning with her husband – and how much she was flabbergasted to hear the news on the crash not long after her husband left for his flight. She and many other people subsequently went to the airport as fearing for the worst, and then they were all devastated to learn that their worst fear turned out to be true.
As the following investigation was begun, many experts including Andy Pasztor, who worked as an aerospace reporter of Wall Street Journal at that time, were baffled as they looked into the flight record of Lion Air Flight 610. It is apparent that Captain Suneja and his co-pilot tried their best when their airplane kept being turned downward to the sea for some unexpected malfunction inside the flight control system, and Pasztor and other experts naturally wondered about how that fatal malfunction could happen.
The investigation eventually exposed a very serious flaw inside the new model from Boeing. There was a hidden safe measure called known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), and, though this safe measure could lead to disastrous situations, Boeing deliberately hid the existence of MCAS from numerous commercial airlines and pilots as well as the US government just because it wanted its new model to be approved and then sold a lot as quickly as possible.
Of course, the executives of Boeing tried to avoid any accountability as much as possible, and they even had their lobbyists manipulate the public and media opinion on the crash of Lion Air Flight 610, but then there came another shocking incident only five months later. On March 10th, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed into the ground not long after its take-off from the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Ethiopia, and, again, all of 157 passengers and crew aboard were killed as a consequence. Because Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was also the same new model manufactured by Boeing, much more public attention was drawn to what was really wrong in its new model, and that eventually led to a US congressional inquiry headed by Peter DeFazio, a Representative of Oregon.
Along with several other interviewees in the documentary including Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, whose remarkable real-life story was the basis of Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” (2016), DeFazio and Pasztor willingly explain to us how things went seriously wrong in Boeing for many years. During its heyday period in the late 20th century, Boeing had floated on its prestigious status, but then it started to go down as competing with several other major companies including Airbus. When Boeing was merged into McDonnell Douglas, it looked like there would be a new period of success for Boeing, but, alas, that was when Boeing began to discard many of its safety and manufacture standards in the name of more profit and efficiency.
Several former Boeing employees interviewed in the documentary tell us how much their work environment was changed in Boeing. Mainly occupied with how to keep the stock market value of their company as high as possible, those new executives of Boeing decided to move the headquarters from Seattle to Chicago just because they did not want any interference from engineers and technicians in making important business decisions, and they also swiftly downsized the company just for decreasing the cost for manufacturing airplanes. As a result, the company was driven more toward profit rather than innovation, and there is a brief but amusing moment which shows us how that new model of Boeing is just a variation of one certain old model like many of its predecessors.
As calmly doling out one alarming fact after another, director Rory Kennedy also pays considerable attention to the family members of the victims of the two crashes, and the most emotional moment in the documentary comes from when some of these grieving people stand up together in the middle of the aforementioned US congressional inquiry. They did not say anything, but their silent presence certainly gave more shame for the CEO of Boeing, who happened to be there for his testimony in front of DeFazio and several other congress members presiding over the inquiry.
In conclusion, “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” presents its case as effectively as intended during its rather short running time (89 minutes), and what is later told to us in the epilogue will make you reflect more on its main issues for good reasons. Although it is only February, I can assure you that this is one of the better documentaries of this year, and I sincerely urge you to check it out as soon as possible.
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