Boeing trial
Source: Netflix

Netflix's 'Downfall: The Case Against Boeing' Proves That "Justice" Isn't Enough

Jamie Lerner - Author

Feb. 23 2022, Published 12:25 p.m. ET

Back in 2019, people around the world grew fearful of flying because of not one, but two fatal plane crashes. The Boeing corporation, once known as a supportive work environment as well as a leader in airplane models and safety, went under public scrutiny. The two crashes, within five months of each other, resulted in the deaths of 346 passengers.

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At the end of the Netflix documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, the filmmakers outline the settlement agreement between Boeing and the Department of Justice. However, many viewers, as well as the victims’ families, don’t think the consequences are nearly as bad as they should be.

Boeing aircraft
Source: Netflix
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‘Downfall: The Case Against Boeing’ makes it clear that the blame is on Boeing.

After the first crash, Boeing tried to place the blame on the pilots, but once investigation into Boeing began, the truth started to unravel. Through a pattern of deceit, corporate money grabbing, and minimization of company culture, it became clear that Boeing was at fault for the crashes of Lion Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

Boeing victims
Source: Netflix
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Basically, Boeing implemented a new system in its 737 Max airplanes called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). This basically was intended to help the plane level out while flying by pushing the nose down so that the plane doesn’t succumb to the weight of its tail. However, the MCAS is based only on one sensor, and if that sensor malfunctions (a very common problem on airplanes), then the MCAS pushes the plane’s nose down with no way to override.

Through investigation, the Department of Justice learned that a failure of a 10-second response time for pilots to turn off the MCAS would result in a fatal event. Despite this, Boeing hid the MCAS from new pilots in order to minimize training, which can be timely and costly for airlines. Basically, Boeing put money over safety, without realizing that the long-run ramifications could be much more costly in the end.

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The Department of Justice reached a settlement with Boeing after the fatal crashes.

In order to discipline Boeing, several trials were underway with the Department of Justice. Boeing basically hid the MCAS not only from airlines looking to purchase the new airplanes, but also from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), which regulates air safety in the USA. Even after the first crash, Boeing shirked all responsibility off so that its planes could continue flying.

So, on Jan. 7, 2021, the DOJ reached a settlement with Boeing: Boeing would have to pay over $2.5 billion "to resolve a criminal charge related to a conspiracy to defraud the [FAA]," per the DOJ press release. This basically allows the corporate leaders at the forefront of Boeing’s faults — mainly former CEO Dennis Muilenberg — to evade any criminal charges and time behind bars.

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Boeing plane
Source: Netflix

The settlement itself includes “a criminal monetary penalty of $243.6 million, compensation payments to Boeing’s 737 MAX airline customers of $1.77 billion, and the establishment of a $500 million crash-victim beneficiaries fund to compensate the heirs, relatives, and legal beneficiaries of the 346 passengers who died,” per the DOJ press release. However, the $2.5 billion is barely a dent in Boeing’s multi-billion dollar value.

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In addition, although Muilenberg was forced to step down as CEO, he did so with his full pension and $60 million in stock options, so he’s hardly dealing with the ramifications of his actions. Will anything further ever happen to reprimand Boeing and its leaders? Likely not, but a new law no longer allows FAA employees to receive bonuses and incentives for meeting schedules and quotas. So the best we can do is hope the FAA never lets something like the Boeing crashes happen again.

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is now available to stream on Netflix.

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