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Featuring a range of new multifunction displays, the cockpit real estate on many new and older aircraft has been undergoing major renovations. And the ways pilots are interacting with the avionics is also changing. Sparked by the popularity of the iPad and other tablet computers, the touchscreen revolution is getting underway on many flight decks, and there is at least some talk about the future use of voice recognition. All of this activity is not signaling the immediate demise of the traditional switches, however. They are still expected to be used to control safety critical operations. In addition, many push-button switch companies are refining their offerings to address changing circumstances while supplying products for an expanding legacy fleet. In October, Rockwell Collins began flight testing the latest configuration of its Pro Line Fusion cockpit featuring the industry’s first touchscreen primary flight display on Hawker Beechcraft King Air B200GT. Additionally, the company said the system will debut as a retrofit option from Hawker Beechcraft Global Customer Support (GCS) for Pro Line 21-equipped King Airs. Certification is expected by the end of 2013 with entry into service in early 2014.

According to Guillaume Lapeyronnie, cockpit marketing manager at Thales, the company is currently working with several aircraft manufacturers to get their feedback about the concept of touch-screen interfaces with the goal of entering into service around 2018. Currently, though, only helicopters have adopted the technology, due to a number of hazards and the difficulty in operations it would create.

Potential hazard

  1. Absence of tactile & aural feedback
  2. Fatigue due to extending arms to touch
  3. Reach issues: location of the touch screen with respect to pilot position; parallax error
  4. Loss of dedicated, geographical location of controls (muscle memory can’t be used as an advantage in stressful situations)
  5. Environmental effects: turbulence, vibration, glare, etc.
  6. Risk of such technology may increase especially when there is the usual commercial or financial pressure to sell and introduce products before full validation.
  7. These new approaches to flight deck displays and interfaces should preceded by a thorough experimentation process to identify the key strengths and weaknesses of such man-machine interfaces. Certification requirements have to be created in close link with validation tests.
    Input hazards with high chance of occurrence, preventing wider adoption of touchscreen inputs as opposed to scroll-and-ball: *Wrong-fingering *Double-confirmation to recover *3-4 moves which would otherwise require only one *Coverage of the area you must be able to view for correct execution

Corroborating sources and comments

Human Computer Interaction Issues with Touch Screen Applications in the Flight deck, Kaminani, Sridher, Iowa State University, Senior Software Engineer, Rockwell Collins, proceedings of the 30th Digital Avionics Conference, Seattle, WA, October 16-20, 2011

NBAA 2013: Touchscreen Cockpit Systems and Next Generation Business Aircraft – See more at:

What Happens Above: Airline industry mulls technology-driven changes to sterile cockpit rules, January 27, 2014 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology

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