The Boeing 737 Max: When Cost Cutting Threatens Passengers’ Lives

Boeing 737 Max: Deadly Assumptions

DW (2020)

Film Review

This documentary concerns worrying shortcuts Boeing took in its development of the 737 Max, resulting in two fatal crashes (and 346 death) in 2018 and 2019. Filmmakers obtained their information from Boeing whistleblowers and from a lawsuit victims’ family filed against the manufacturer. The film also raises troubling questions about the failure of the FAA to adequately enforce safety regulations.

The first Max crashed in Indonesia in October 2018. On investigation, the FAA, identified a potential for the plane’s MCAS software system to malfunction. Statistically¬† engineers predicted the faulty MCAS could cause one plane crash every three years. Victims of the second, Ethiopia Airlines, crash assert that either Boeing or the FAA should have grounded the 737 Max at this point. However, for some inexplicable reason, both deemed the risk to be acceptable.

According to lawyers for the victims, Boeing began work on the Max in 2011 to compete with the Eurobus Neo. Launched n December 2010, enhanced fuel efficiency made the latter far cheaper to operate than anything Boeing had to offer. Instead of designing a totally new aircraft, to save costs Boeing simply mounted the engines higher on their 50-year-old 737 model. To compensate for the difficulty in manoeuvrability this caused, the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation Software System (MCAS).

The MCAS, in turn,¬† had an unfortunate tendency to increase the plane’s downward thrust without the pilot’s knowledge The second crash led both the EU and China to immediately ground their Max jets, with the FAA following suit a day later. Although Boeing had warned pilots about potential problems with the MCAS after the first crash, the Ethiopian Airlines pilot was unable to compensate for the downward thrust effect of the MCAS. Again owing to cost concerns, Boeing had resisted offering pilots simulator training on the faulty planes.

Boeing whistleblowers informed filmmakers about other Boeing cost cutting measures that pose potential risks to passenger safety. Examples include 800 airplanes with damaged bolts (caused by using the wrong tool to tighten them), metal slivers in the wiring (that could cause shorts by damaging the insulation) and oxygen masks (on the 787) that fail to deploy 25% of the time.

According to the New York Times, the FAA and Canadian and Brazilian regulators lifted their grounding ban on the Max in¬† December 2020. The families of those killed aboard the two fatal flights argue the Max is still unfit to fly. For now, American and other airlines allow “anxious” passengers to rebook flights if they wish to avoid the troubled aircraft.