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Leaked audio: Pilots grill Boeing officials between deadly 737 MAX crashes

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

This story has been updated.

American Airlines (AAL) pilots reportedly confronted Boeing (BA) about the new features it had added to the 737 Max 8 — after the first deadly crash but before the second in Ethiopia that occurred in March, according to an audio recording obtained by CBS News.

In a tense November 27 meeting between the pilots’ union and the aerospace giant after the Lion Air crash in October, airplane operators expressed frustration with the 737 Max, CBS reported on Tuesday.

In the audio, the pilots are heard complaining that they were unaware of the system operating on their planes after the first crash.

"We flat out deserve to know what is on our airplanes," according to an unidentified pilot obtained by CBS.

"These guys didn't even know the damn system was on the airplane — nor did anybody else," another said. "We're the last line of defense to being in that smoking hole. And we need the knowledge.”

American Airlines pilots show the cockpit during a media preview of the Boeing 737-800 jets at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in Grapevine, Texas in 2009. (Photo credit: AP Photo/Donna McWilliam, file)

The Allied Pilots Association told Yahoo Finance that it shared the recording “because of the pilots’ deep concerns around the situation” and provided the following statement from Allied Pilots Association President Captain Daniel F. Carey:

“American Airlines pilots have been pressing Boeing for answers because we owe it to our passengers and the 346 people who lost their lives to do everything we can to prevent another tragedy. Boeing did not treat the 737 Max 8 situation like the emergency it was, and that’s why we took swift legal action demanding years of records related to the model and are working with lawmakers in Washington to ensure proper oversight of Boeing, the FAA, Airbus, American Airlines and all carriers.”

An unidentified Boeing official heard on the audio said that the pilots didn’t need to be aware of that information since chances of that same crash happening again was remote.

In response to an inquiry from Yahoo Finance, a Boeing spokesperson said that the company remains “focused on working with pilots, airlines and global regulators to certify the updates on the MAX and provide additional training and education to safely return the planes to flight.”

Questions surround 737 MAX

Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell appears before a Senate Transportation subcommittee on commercial airline safety, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 27, 2019, in Washington. (Photo credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Investigators believe that a faulty sensor that triggered the aircraft’s MCAS anti-stall system caused the Lion Air flight to crash, killing 189 people in October.

Four months later, on March 10, the Ethiopian Airlines jet carrying 156 passengers crashed six minutes after take-off. It led to the worldwide grounding of Boeing’s best-selling jet and prompted an investigation by Federal Aviation Administration by Congress.

Acting FAA head Daniel Elwell testified before Congress on Wednesday, and got grilled by several legislators. He faces questions about how tough the FAA has been in its oversight of the industry in general, and Boeing in particular.

“The FAA has a credibility problem,” House Transportation subcommittee chairman Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Washington) said during the hearing.

“The FAA must take steps to restore the public’s confidence in the ability to maintain the safest aerospace system in the world,” he added.

This is far from the first time critics have leveled that accusation at the FAA. Boeing and the U.S. government have “been cozy forever,” Jim Hall, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) from 1994 to 2001, previously told Yahoo Finance.

For years, Hall has been calling for a “congressional hearing to look at the certification process” that let airline manufacturers certify their own aircrafts’ airworthiness.

“The information and effective responsibility has tilted from the FAA to Boeing as a result of this change,” Hall said.

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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