Bernat is well-known within engineering circles. Two former Takata colleagues described him as technically competent and easy to work with.
"Al was very even-keeled, competent and diplomatic at handling the Japanese. He had to be, in that role," said Scott Upham, an industry consultant in Rochester, N.Y., who worked for Takata in the 1990s.
A second former colleague -- a retired executive who asked not to be identified -- described Bernat as a good problem solver. "He was very analytical, very professional," said the executive. "He was well-liked within the technical community."
Bernat, a former General Motors executive, joined Takata in 1991 and was later put in charge of a seat belt operation that Takata acquired in 1989, according to the ex-colleagues. Later, he moved to Takata's engineering operations, which oversaw development of airbags and seat belts.
During the 1990s, Bernat emerged as an unofficial airbag-industry spokesman when he was named chairman of the inflatable-restraints committee of the Automotive Occupant Restraints Council. He was an enthusiastic booster of "smart" airbags that could adjust their deployment according to the size of the passenger.
Ditlow agrees that Bernat has experience and technical expertise. But he notes that allegations about his role in the airbag tests -- if true -- could cause trouble for Takata.
"If you have a company in crisis, you would want a respected senior executive to come back," Ditlow said. "But there's a lot of baggage associated with him."