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This Pilot Has Been Watching Testimony By Boeing's CEO. Here's What He Has To Say

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has spent the last two days being grilled by members of Congress. They want to understand what role the company played in the crashes of two 737 Max airplanes. Those crashes together killed 346 people. They were partly blamed on a new flight control system and a single faulty sensor, neither of which pilots were told about in initial training. Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, had this to say.

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PETER DEFAZIO: I've talked to a lot of pissed off pilots. They said we were the backup system. How can we be backup if we don't know something's going to take over our plane? They are - there's quite a bit of discontent out in the aviation community about that.

KELLY: Well, we are going to turn now to one of those pilots who has flown the 737 Max, Captain Dennis Tajer. He flew the plane for American Airlines before it was grounded. He's also a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, and he's been watching this testimony closely. Captain Tajer, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DENNIS TAJER: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

KELLY: What moment stands out to you from these two days of testimony?

TAJER: Well, what Chairman DeFazio just said, yes, we're enraged by not knowing about this critical safety system. In fact, at a meeting with Boeing back in November, I clearly remember responding when we asked about the single point of failure, why they designed it that way, and they said, no, you're the backup. And I remember responding, well, how could I be the backup if I don't know anything about the system?

KELLY: So that comment, it resonated with you.

TAJER: Very much.

KELLY: Muilenburg gave a very emotional apology. He said he personally and the Boeing Company that he leads are deeply and truly sorry, his words. How did you hear that?

TAJER: Well, it seemed that there was there was pain in his delivery. There's no doubt. He's a human being. And if he's connecting to this human tragedy and coming out of the engineering cubicle or the shareholder-interest-only mode, that is good. So it was pleasing to hear. But now we need to see actions that back this up and ensure that this never happens again.

KELLY: And did you hear that? I mean, he was grilled over and over by lawmakers about changes that Boeing needs to think about making so that this never happens again.

TAJER: Well, I heard pieces of it. But I also heard some areas that were very troubling. He continued to rehearse that he did not - they did not want pilots to diagnose systems malady but just to cover the effects of it, adding that more information in manuals does not necessarily make it safer. Well, I got news for you. No information in the manuals makes it less safe. And as far as diagnosing goes, I've been doing this for over three decades, in the military and at American Airlines. And information is the key to safety. And especially with a complex emergency like these two crews had, trying to bifurcate out what is going on, diagnosis is part of the solution.

KELLY: The focus of these two days of hearings has been Boeing, of course, and changes that they need to make. What about the FAA?

TAJER: Well, clearly the system failed from within Boeing and at the FAA. The ODA system it is called, developed, I believe, in 2003, it has been called to question. And the CEO of Boeing was asked about supporting new legislation on that. I don't think he gave a very clear answer, but I can assure you that we'll be in full support of any legislation that changes that program because it failed. Designing something for a good day may work, and it may have worked in the past. But whether there's insidious or direct intent to model it, the system has to check that. And it did not catch that. And that's unacceptable.

KELLY: You used the word enraged a moment ago to describe how you've been feeling. And I wonder as you talk to other pilots this week, maybe others who were watching this testimony, what has been the conversation? Are they also still mad?

TAJER: Absolutely. And going over the transcript, replaying and seeing the detail of the Lion Air tragedy, my blood pressure went up because I saw two pilots struggling who had essentially blindfolds on. I just flew the other day. And my first officer said, I don't know that I fly that aircraft until I get the right training, whether it be a simulator or not. And all I could say was hear, hear. We got to learn more about what they have and the fixes. We do like what we're seeing, but we've got miles to go before this airplane rises to the level where it should reach the trust of pilots and passengers.

KELLY: So what specifically do you need to hear before you would get back in that cockpit again?

TAJER: We need to hear details. We need to know what they had in the manual and they pulled out. And we need full disclosure on a lot of other questions that even Congress is asking.

KELLY: And when I last interviewed you, this was this past spring, and you'd talked about you would not get back in that cockpit until you were persuaded it's safe for your passengers. It sounds like bottom line, there's still a lot of work to be done.

TAJER: Absolutely.

KELLY: Captain Dennis Tajer of the Allied Pilots Association. Captain Tajer, thank you.

TAJER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.