Feb. 17, 2022, (c) Leeham News: Tomorrow the documentary movie Downfall will be available on Netflix and, probably, Youtube. Unveiled during the Sundance film festival, Downfall is about the Boeing 737 MAX crisis.
The producers’ staff of Downfall contacted me during their research. I told them, among other things, that you had to know what else was going on at the time at Boeing when MAX was launched in July 2011 in order to understand the full context of Boeing during that period. The underlying thesis–that re-engining the 737 and decisions made–wasn’t only about profit, shareholder value, or greed, as many suggested. In fact, Boeing reported a $4bn in 2011 despite the pressures.
I also told the Downfall crew that I didn’t agree that the MAX shortcomings were about greed. Yes, shareholder value was the top priority—but as I wrote in Air Wars, good people made bad decisions. Complacency was also at work. Nothing like this had happened before, so it won’t happen now. In any event, the pilots are the backstop. Or so Boeing engineers thought.
There is nothing in it for Boeing to develop an unsafe airplane. There are also always pressures to control costs and meet delivery schedules. On every program. At Boeing, at Airbus, etc.
In the end, these producers didn’t use me. I don’t know if I didn’t fit into their narrative—I haven’t seen the movie yet. But Frontline’s PBS special did. I appear at 10:00 and 11:12, 12:15 and 12:40 (what else was going on at the time) minutes.
My book, Air Wars, The Global Combat Between Airbus and Boeing, describes in detail how the development of the MAX came about. Boeing had two designs under study. One was a new, clean-sheet airplane. The other was re-engining the 737. Executives chose the latter when American Airlines was on the cusp of ordering up to 400 Airbus A320 family members. The MAX wasn’t “rushed” to design, as many charged–the basics were already done. But, as the cliche goes, the devil is in the details.
Named to the Top 10 List of Aerospace Books for Christmas Choices, 2021
Puget Sound Business Journal
(Seattle area.) No. 1 on the Christmas list of aerospace books for 2021.
No. 1 on its list of Best New Aerospace eBooks to read in 2022.
Chris Sloan, The Airchive
“A worthy successor to ‘The Sporty Game,’” the 1982 book by John Newhouse, considered at the time to be the definitive book about the competition between Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and the emerging Airbus.
Dan Catchpole, Aviation Writer
Air Wars is a tour de force look behind the curtain of Boeing and Airbus’ global competition and, in part, a biography of Airbus’ head salesman, John Leahy, the man who forced Boeing’s hand to re-engine the 737. Longtime aerospace analyst and journalist Scott Hamilton takes readers through the twists and turns of the decades-long battle between the two companies.
Dan Reed, Aviation Writer
Using John Leahy’s long and monumental career as a vehicle for telling readers about the 51-year battle between Airbus and Boeing is both an interesting and inspired choice by the author.