Fatal flaw: Netflix documentary explores Boeing plane crashes
Boeing 737 Max planes were stored in an area adjacent to Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington in 2019. Photo/Getty Images
“If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going.”
This famous slogan reflected the absolute trust that passengers and flight crews around the world had placed in airline manufacturing giant Boeing for many years.
The iconic company, established in 1916, introduced the commercial jet that made flying affordable for most people and was for many years the most popular aircraft supplier to airlines around the world.
Most of us who have flown have been on a Boeing plane. Every minute, approximately 10,000 Boeing aircraft are in service in more than 150 countries around the world.
But that confidence was shaken when two planes fell from the sky, killing hundreds of people within months of each other.
The circumstances surrounding the crashes are explored in a Netflix documentary called Downfall: The Case Against Boeing. It could change the way passengers perceive flying, with profit claims being placed above passenger safety.
Rory Kennedy’s description of the documentary sums it up: “Investigators reveal how Boeing’s alleged priority of profit over safety could have contributed to two catastrophic crashes within months of each other.”
Expert opinions, cockpit recordings, interviews with relatives of victims and documents from regulatory bodies are used to make the case for the aviation giant. Among the experts interviewed were former Boeing engineers, members of Congress and outraged pilots, including disaster prevention hero Sully Sullenberger.
The two air tragedies explored in the documentary are Lion Air Flight 610 which crashed in Indonesia in 2018 killing 189 people, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 which killed 157 when it crashed in Indonesia. Ethiopia.
What was extremely shocking was that these were two brand new planes, the 737 Max.
Jon Ostrower, editor of aviation publication The Air Current, said: “Two brand new plane crashes five months apart, that just doesn’t happen in modern aviation.”
When the Lion Air plane was shot down, initially there was a lot of finger pointing and the heat was on the pilots. No one could believe that the brand new plane could be the problem.
Garima Sethi, wife of Lion Air pilot Bhavye Suneja, said: “There was a blame game going on, blaming the country, blaming the airline, blaming the pilots.”
Eventually the truth emerged that the 737 Max had a design flaw, and Boeing worked on a fix, but it wasn’t completed in time to save the Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed a few months later.
The design flaw involved the new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), an automated safety feature designed to prevent the aircraft from losing lift or entering a stall.
Even more shocking was the fact that the pilots had not been trained in the new system.
Captain Sullenberger said: “Finally, Boeing released a statement saying it appears the Lion Air plane had the wrong MCAS activation. And we all went, what is MCAS?”
Richard Reed, a systems engineer for the United States Federal Aviation Administration, was also shocked: “Say what? That was my answer. What. How the hell could that have happened?”
Andy Pasztor, former Aerospace Reporter for the Wall Street Journal, said it was a major oversight on Boeing’s part: “Everyone was completely baffled and surprised when they found out that Boeing had no never told the pilots that the MCAS system was on the plane.”
Shockingly, a Wall Street Journal investigation claimed that Boeing deliberately withheld this information, saying a high-level source confirmed that the pilots were not briefed so as not to “overwhelm” them.
Along with the shock of finding out there was a new addition on the planes that most pilots hadn’t been told about, Boeing later claimed that pilots should have been able to take action if MCAS acted in error.
“We shouldn’t expect pilots to have to compensate for faulty designs,” Captain Sullenberger said. “These crews would have fought for their lives in the fight of their lives.”
As the investigation continued, Boeing was accused of ignoring the families of the Lion Air crash victims in their search for answers.
Then, as Boeing worked on a fix for the design flaw, a second plane hauntingly fell from the sky.
“Just the idea that in five months the same plane, a new plane, crashed in eerily similar circumstances – near the airport, at a relatively low altitude, no bad weather, all the obvious reasons why planes would crash…” Mr Pasztor said, noting the world was in shock.
Meanwhile, Captain Dan Carey of the Allied Pilot Association said: “This is a sudden, violent and terrifying event.”
However, initially Boeing would not publicly consider them at fault, with former CEO Dennis Muilenburg insisting that “safety is at the core of who we are at Boeing”.
The company also released a statement saying, “We have full confidence in the safety of the Max.”
Instead, they again tried to blame the pilots. They acknowledged the MCAS misfired, but said the crew did not completely follow procedures.
It was later revealed that the Ethiopian crew actually realized MCAS was the problem and tried to do what Boeing asked them to do and turn off the MCAS system, but the plane was going too fast and they could not recover the aircraft manually.
While the world was rocked by Max’s second crash, the FAA did not immediately take action, saying it was waiting for data before deciding to ground the planes.
However, the day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, China grounded its Max plane, and other countries followed, including Australia.
Former US President Donald Trump later decided to ground the planes after evidence was found at the Ethiopian Airlines crash site.
Then it emerged that after the first crash of the Lion Air plane, the FAA conducted a transport aircraft risk assessment methodology to assess the risk of another crash. It was not made public at the time, but was given to Boeing.
Michael Stumo, father of Ethiopian Airlines crash victim Samya Stumo, said of the analysis: “They predicted without solution that there could be 15 more crashes in life (from the plane)”.
Mr Pasztor said: “They projected that there could be up to one fatal crash every two years of a Max. That would make the Max the most dangerous modern jet ever built.
“… The most troubling part of the story (is) that Boeing did the minimum. They were betting the problem wouldn’t happen again until a permanent fix could be implemented. turned out to be a fatal error.
“It’s a horrible, horrible story.”
Peter DeFazio, chairman of the Oregon District Court, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: “In the 21st century, losing two planes within months of each other and killing as many people as ever should have to arrive.
“The safety culture at Boeing has collapsed. It has been corrupted from top to bottom by Wall Street pressures.”
Mr. Muilenburg resigned two months later at the request of Boeing’s board of directors.
The Boeing 737 Max was grounded for 20 months while the MCAS system was overhauled.
In November 2021, the FAA approved the aircraft’s return to the air after the MCAS was rectified and the pilots were trained.
Boeing responded to the documentary makers saying, “Boeing says no government or regulatory review has found that production conditions at Max factories contributed to the accidents.”