‘Downfall: The Case Against Boeing’ Explained: What Went Wrong With The 737 Max?


“If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going” became a common statement as jet aircraft became synonymous with the company, Boeing. Boeing made air travel cheap and safe. With the rise of jet aircraft manufactured by Boeing, international travel has become a common phenomenon. Though with time, Boeing’s priority shifted from safety to being valuable in the stock market. “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” is a documentary film that studies the fall of Boeing, particularly after the launch of the 737 Max model. Two back-to-back plane crashes brought Boeing to the spotlight as the victims’ families asked for accountability. As the journalists and congressmen dug deep, they found evidence of Boeing making questionable decisions for profit. “Downfall” brings to light the dirty deeds of the aircraft manufacturing giant, making it an engaging watch.

What Is ‘Downfall: The Case Against Boeing’ About?

The crash of Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018, led to the deaths of 189 passengers and crew members who were on board. People started investigating the cause of the crash, which led to an elaborate blame game. Boeing blamed the pilots for the crash, as they believed they were not qualified enough. The plan was to propagate the idea that the pilots in the US were not facing a similar situation; therefore, the fault was with the local pilots. Their argument could not hold the ground as the black boxes revealed different data. Boeing dismissed it all and continued to make the travelers believe that it was still safe.

After five months, another plane crash occurred in Ethiopia. The case of the second 737 Max crash had brought in more speculation. The design of the aircraft was questioned and discussed. The voice recording of the pilots who were flying the plane indicated that they followed the instruction that was demonstrated in the virtual training. Therefore, the question regarding the capability of the pilots could be dismissed. Upon further investigation, it was found that the 737 Max had an MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristic Augmentation System). A system that worked on sensors was built to pull the nose of the aircraft down. In the first case, the pilots were unaware of the system. In the second plane crash case, the pilots knew about the system but failed to deactivate it even after following the instructions provided by Boeing. The families of the victims were agitated and wanted justice for the loss of lives.

“Downfall: The Case Against Boeing,” with the help of journalists, congressmen, and the families of the victims, tries to analyze what went wrong with the new version. They also conducted a thorough study of the company and the way it operates. The film particularly makes it a point to establish how the lives lost were collateral damage when it came to the business runners, whose main aim was to achieve a higher value in the stock market.

What Went Wrong With The 737 Max?

There were various things at play that resulted in the plane crash. A primary reason was that the MCAS system, which depended on a single sensor to activate, could easily be triggered by simple disturbances, such as collisions with birds or balloons. This resulted in the system pulling the nose down at a great speed. It took control away from the pilots, creating all sorts of havoc. 

The Boeing documents that were sent to Congress during the case against the company showed that the pilots barely had 10 seconds to react to the trigger. The company was aware of the MCAS system and how it was a completely new function that required the pilots to be trained, yet it chose to keep it secret. 

The reason was FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approval—by modifying an already existing model, the approval was easy to achieve, and the cost required for pilot training could also be avoided. This was the primary reason why there was no special mention of a newly introduced system. After the Ethiopian plane crash, the FAA had assessed the risk involved in flying the 737 Max. The result was disclosed that every two years, a plane could crash. Even after the risk analysis, Boeing chose to continue with the new model.

What Was The Verdict Of The Case Against Boeing?

Congress analyzed every document sent by Boeing. The documents had minutes of meetings where they discussed how it was important to keep the new system hidden and their reason for doing so. Boeing’s competitor, Airbus, had designed a new, fuel-efficient jet aircraft. The model was ordered in the thousands, which resulted in Boeing making a hasty decision. Since designing a completely new model requires a lot more time and effort, they decided to make the existing 737 fuel-efficient. The need to deliver had become a lot more important than the quality of the product. After the 737 Max reached the market with thousands of orders in line, Boeing’s share value skyrocketed. Keeping Wall Street happy remained the primary concern of the company.

The case against Boeing, with enough and more proof in the hands of Congress, after 18 months of investigation, resulted in the formation of the Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act, which was passed. This resulted in the strengthening of the FAA oversight. After being grounded for 20 months, the Boeing Max returned to the market with a revised MCAS system. At the request of Boeing’s Board of Directors, the then CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, resigned from his post. The Boeing 737 Max continues to fly, and Boeing vouches for its safety.

“Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” might seem technical at first, but the issue is explained in detail. Simple in its approach, this documentary unravels truths that will make you watch it till the end with utmost interest. The 2022 documentary film directed by Rory Kennedy is currently streaming on Netflix.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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