Boeing's downfall – an account of broken trust and greed

Courtesy of Netflix

A medley of fascination and fear exemplifies my relationship with flying. My brain goes into overdrive at the thought of how risky flying can be, but I put aside any thoughts of a crash because I trust in the cutting edge technology used by Boeing and Airbus, the world's two major aircraft manufacturers, to keep me safe.

As I have mostly flown in Boeing planes most of my life, I found Netflix's Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, directed by Rory Kennedy, an intriguing piece of investigative work into recent Boeing crashes that offers audiences a damning account of why the disasters occurred and who was responsible.

The two major plane crashes in question include Lion Air Flight 610 which crashed into the Java Sea shortly after departing Jakarta, killing all 189 passengers and crew on Oct 29, 2018.

Five months later, an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed in similar circumstances, and with a similarly tragic outcome.

The type of plane in both cases was a 737 Max, a recently released update of the Boeing 737.

The subsequent government investigations into both crashes found "repeated and serious failures" by Boeing. In November last year, Boeing admitted total responsibility for the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

It was an unsettling experience for me to watch incriminating evidence against Boeing unfold during the film. Why? Well, for one, it was Boeing, a manufacturer whose reputation for quality was second to none until now.

Public perception also saw the brand as being synonymous with safety for decades since their 707 took off from JFK Airport years ago and welcomed in the Jet Age.

That is why the general reaction of the audience was sheer horror when the cause behind both crashes was traced to a software failure or "an erroneous activation of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)" -- new in the 737 Max -- and the company went to great lengths to keep this information under wraps, making the situation go from bad to worse.

In the literal sense, Boeing had placed pilots in the impossible position of having 10 seconds to override a system they did not know existed and weren't told was a feature of the updated 737, let alone taught to operate it.

Downfall calls on various talking heads related to the aviation industry and further afield to tell this riveting story. We get to hear from journalists like Andy Pasztor, a former scribe with the Wall Street Journal, to politicians like Peter DeFazio, chair of the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, who heads the congressional inquiry into the crashes.

The company's chilling apathy towards the incidents is outlined by the filmmakers, who skilfully piece together a convincing case here. One element of Downfall that stuck out was the sentiment of how diseased and depraved Boeing has become today.

Listening to stories of interviewees, whose take on the issue was sidelined during early coverage of the crashes, played a vital role in conceptualising what led to the fiasco.

For it is here that we listen to families forced to grapple with the unfathomable grief of losing loved ones and former Boeing employees whose personal experiences offer further insight into the once-reliable aeroplane manufacturer's current toxic culture.

The Netflix documentary is a timely one as it is a level-headed account of a reputed company's colossal failing, and how far it went to preserve its reputation and profit margins, even at the expense of passenger safety and loss of life.

But what makes it a memorable watch I believe for many of us is the reminder of the trust we all need when we take to the skies.

  • Downfall: The Case Against Boeing
  • Starring Donald Trump, Peter Jennings, Lester Holt
  • Directed by Rory Kennedy
  • Now streaming on Netflix
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