In a major milestone for the commercial aviation market Airbus delivered its first A350 with a touch screen-capable flight deck last week. China Eastern Airlines took delivery of the first aircraft with this option installed on 18 December 2019. The system, developed by Thales and certified by EASA last month, brings pinch-zoom and panning gesture controls familiar to smartphone and tablet users the world over on to the flight deck for the first time in a commercial aircraft.
Thales’s integrated touchscreen is the first touchscreen to be certified by EASA for commercial aviation, on A350. It is a landmark in the cockpit evolution offering pilots a new user experience and enabling airlines to accelerate their digital transformation thanks to our long-term partnership with Airbus.– Jean-Paul Ebanga, Vice President, Flight Avionics, Thales
The A350 flight deck interface includes six large LCD screens. With the touch screen option three of these – the outside pair and the bottom center screen – become interactive. The screens integrate with an electronic flight bag application to ease a number of common pilot tasks. Airbus highlights a trio of usage scenarios where the touch screens are expected to reduce pilot workload and improve interaction between the crew:
- Before take-off: for computing take-off performance while entering data into the flight management system “FMS”
- In-flight/cruise: for accessing en-route navigation charts
- During approach preparation: for consulting the terminal charts before entering FMS data
The flight deck is not a forgiving work environment and the touch screen hardware involved must meet stringent requirements. Among the challenges Thales identified, the new screens must offer low reflectivity, operate in dense electromagnetic environments, withstand high levels of vibration and sustain their high performance characteristics throughout the product lifecycle.
The system must also remain usable and precisely track inputs even during turbulence or other challenging flight scenarios. Less critical to certification, but perhaps more significant to crew, will be the screens’ resistance to fingerprints and smudges.
The touch screen option is the second major upgrade to flight control systems introduced by Thales in recent weeks. In late November the company announced its PureFlyt flight management system. That solution is still a ways out from flying (ETA for certification is 2024) but it is another way Thales is modernizing the flight deck experience.