THE END OF THE WATCH SHOP
However, the airlines were skeptical, until, ironically, it was US company Eastern Airlines that put in a major order in 1977 that helped the new model to break through. Eastern CEO at the time and former astronaut Frank Borman recognized the advantages of the A300’s innovative design. The aircraft was smaller and lighter than its US-made competitors, which meant lower operating costs. Airbus launched a total of 561 A300 aircraft, and the cargo version was still in production until 2007. Today, the largest operators are express logistics company Fedex with 68 aircraft, and UPS with 52, with several smaller freight airlines also relying on Airbus’ new models.
THE A300 IS STILL VITAL TO UPS
Even though the oldest aircraft in the UPS fleet did away with the previously obligatory space for an on-board engineer, the cockpit was not considered state-of-the-art even then. Despite a few digital displays, many analog instruments still dominated the two pilots’ workstations – they even joked that the cockpit was a “watch shop”.
The workload in the cockpit of the A300 is also intensive. For capacity reasons, the flight management system cannot store data on all common commercial airports in the US. The crew therefore often has to enter new data manually, which takes time and can lead to errors. In addition, only a limited overview of the current flight status can be gleaned from the multitude of analog instruments and antiquated digital displays.
THE COCKPIT GOES DIGITAL
The test flights with the new cockpit technology are to continue well into 2020, since the systems and the aircraft itself will have to be completely recertified. Overall, Airbus and UPS expect the conversion of the entire A300 fleet to take several more years. At the same time, UPS has launched another major cockpit upgrade for its Boeing 757 and 767 fleet, but this is far less extensive and is limited primarily to replacing the screen systems.
“The A300 project is a true innovation,” says Kevin O’Hara, UPS Manager for Avionics and Systems Engineering. “We’re taking a 1970s aircraft and bringing it into the 21st century with new instruments and systems.”
Photos: UPS, Boeing