Touchscreen Cockpit Displays – Flying at the Touch of a Finger
With the new cockpit setup, the three monitors displaying the EFB applications can be switched to touchscreen function. Of the total of six large monitors, these are the two outer ones and the one between the pilots. The touchscreen applications can be optionally selected, in addition to the keyboard in the extendable table in front of the pilot and the trackball keyboard cursor control unit in the center console. They are intended to facilitate the work of the pilots during the labor-intensive phases prior to take-off, during flight over various zones and during landing approach.
Last December, Airbus delivered the first A350 XWB with touchscreen cockpit displays to China Eastern Airlines. One month earlier, the European Union Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) certified the joint development with French technology group Thales. The 15-inch screen is the first of this type to be approved for use on board commercial aircraft. The requirements for cockpit displays are high: they must have minimal reflection, operate in dense electromagnetic environments, withstand high levels of vibration, and maintain these properties throughout the whole product life cycle. The features work in the same way as on a tablet or smartphone, allowing users to zoom, swipe and swivel the view with two fingers.
Wilhelm personally tested the touchscreen applications just recently. At the end of March, he flew a customer aircraft from Hamburg to Toulouse. A little later he took off for a twelve-hour development flight with the prototype of the A350-1000 via Canada to Toulouse. His verdict: “The touchscreens simplify the process and thus reduce the workload.”
The advantages of the touchscreen application are particularly evident on long-haul flights. “A flight from Germany to France is still relatively uncomplicated, as with Eurocontrol there is only one flight safety authority involved. A flight over Russia to China, for example, involves several air traffic control centers. They communicate on different frequencies, and there are always different limitations. For some, I have to report ten minutes before entering their airspace, for others half an hour. If I can call up the relevant information in the EFB relatively quickly with my finger, the workflow is much easier and faster than with the cursor.”
His concerns about not being able to operate the touchscreens with the necessary fine movements during periods of turbulence were dispelled on his flight to Canada. The touchscreen on the center console is installed almost flat, so he can use it without discomfort. “Ultimately, I can switch back to the cursor at any time.”
It is not only the test pilot who is impressed by the new touchscreens. In addition to China Eastern, several other airlines including British Airways, Air France, Scandinavian Airlines, Aeroflot, China Southern Airlines and Finnair are among the first to run A350 XWB aircraft with touchscreen cockpit displays, and ten more have ordered the new option so far.
Photos: Airbus, H. Goussé / master films