You want to watch this. On Netflix.
I’ve had a fascination with aircraft ever since my first jet flight on a Boeing 720B. We all knew the 707, it substituted for “jet” the same way “Kleenex” substitutes for “tissue.” Hell, ultimately Steve Miller sang a song about it. So what was a 720B?
I started to pay attention to the jets at the airport. The 727 was the one with the three engines at the back, with the high tailfeather. The DC-9 was similar, but smaller, with only two engines. The DC-10 was like a giant 727, and it had a spotty safety record. You started to worry about flying on a DC-10 towards the end of its service.
And then came Airbus. AirBUS? It’s not a bus, but a plane! And there’s no way the Europeans could compete with Boeing, NO WAY!
Only that proved to be untrue. Just like our ability to win in Vietnam. Boomers were brought up in an age where the United States was the undisputed king, we thought there was nothing our country couldn’t achieve, in truth all the boomers were active patriots, waving the flag, until the mid-sixties and Vietnam, when they might be sent to Southeast Asia and get their ass shot off in an unwinnable war.
That was the human element.
And that’s what “Downfall” adds to the picture. I knew almost everything in the flick, having followed the story closely, but to see the relatives of the dead? You never recover from that. And I can’t think of a worse way to die than in an airplane. Come on, to this day when something odd happens on the jet you start to contemplate it, especially when the captain comes on and says there’s a problem. I’ve been there, I don’t think my anxiety has ever been higher than the return flight to the airport we’d taken off from.
But in truth, your odds of dying in the crash of a major airline jet are infinitesimal, your odds of dying in a car are higher. But when it happens, essentially no one survives. I mean dying in an avalanche is bad, but in a matter of minutes you pass out. The plane heading straight down to the land or sea…I don’t even want to contemplate it.
So there are two stories involved here. The one of the two crashes, the Lion and Ethiopian 737 Maxes, and the corporate greed that ultimately caused the problem.
You see Boeing was beaten to the punch by Airbus. Boeing was disrupted. By technology. Airbus provided a much more fuel efficient airplane and Boeing had nothing to compete with it, to create a brand new competitor would take nearly a decade. So Boeing gussied up the decades old 737 and sold it as a solution.
But you can’t continually fix the past, oftentimes you have to start with a blank sheet of paper. Techies are normally good with this. Write off the past for a better future. Which is why I’m against the EU standardizing USB-C as the world’s connector. You want to impede technological innovation? Hell, the Lightning connector in today’s iPhones is far superior to the 30 pin one offered on the original devices, and smaller too.
But it’s the emphasis on corporate greed that ultimately resonates here.
Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago. That would be like Universal Music doing the same, it made no sense, the planes were built in Seattle and the South Carolina.
But what this documentary does so well is delineate the schism that ultimately led to the crashes. Boeing merged with the fading McDonnell Douglas, which itself was the result of a merger, and ultimately the McDonnell Douglas brass ended up in control. And they had no understanding of the Boeing corporate culture, and only cared about profits. They wanted to make their bonuses!
And that’s America in a nutshell. Why is it that a corporation’s only duty is to deliver shareholder wealth? I don’t see that in the Bible.
And forget the 737 Max, if you follow the sphere, you know there are problems with the 787 Dreamliner. I’ll make it simple, they’re built shoddily, and therefore they keep on getting recalled and grounded. Build it once, right, the foundation is key. But the foundation went out the window when CEOs could suddenly end up billionaires solely from their compensation at the company.
I mean how do you remove metal filings from the wiring?
In truth all new planes need modifications. Which is why savvy customers never bought a car in the year of its introduction, nor a new tech product. But then Toyota always got it right and so did the tech companies, the products worked, right out of the box, and you expected that. So you expected the 737 Max to not be rotten at its core. But it was.
And it all came down to efficiency. If they told the airlines and the FAA the plane was significantly different from the original 737, pilots would need simulator training, and that’s very costly.
But it turned out the pilots ended up needing to be trained anyway. Never mind the planes sitting on the tarmac for all those months, waiting for a software update.
Yes, welcome to the modern world, where software is king. For those of us conscious before the twenty first century this is hard to fathom. The hardware was king. And if you were savvy, you might be able to fix it yourself. Now you can’t fix your own car. Then again, they break down a lot less. And when there’s a problem, Tesla just sends an update over the air, via the internet, and it’s solved. Meanwhile, Detroit is trying to meld the old with the new and so far it hasn’t worked well. It’s kind of like Apple, building the computer is the easiest part, it can be done in factories by low-paid employees in China. But there’s no way in hell those workers can write the software that makes them work.
So this story is continuing, not only at Boeing, but Airbus too, Qatar Airways is complaining that its A350s are defective, with the paint peeling. Then again, Airbus admits the flaws, no one other than the Qatar government believes there’s a safety problem, and in truth it’s just about money.
So, you see the thousands of people building Boeing planes. And you can’t help but see the discrepancy in pay between them and those in the C-Suite. Now we see income inequality everywhere we go. And like in the Amazon warehouses, Boeing workers had goals they had to hit no matter what, and what was sacrificed was safety.
But you’ll learn all that in “Downfall.” Which is not a big commitment, only an hour and a half. And it holds your interest throughout.
And in truth the buzz is building, this one film is going to dent Boeing in a way years of news stories has not. But the reason I watched the film was the personal recommendations from my readers. The rest of the hype just flew right by me.
It shouldn’t fly right by you.
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