Airbus and Boeing have again adopted contrasting philosophies for pilot interface systems, this time with control of the flight management system (FMS).

On its A380, Airbus has implemented the first major revision of the multipurpose control and display unit (MCDU) that is has used to control the FMS since the technology was introduced in the 1970s, while Boeing has decided to keep the 787’s controller more traditional. The A380’s expanded unit incorporates a qwerty keyboard, in place of the old-fashioned A, B, C, D keypad, a design which will be adopted for the A350.

Although Boeing has improved the 787’s FMS control unit with a larger screen and revised control layout, it will retain a traditional keypad on the 787 following feedback from customers and the desire for commonality.

“Based on input from the airlines, we wanted a high level of flightdeck commonality with the 777, which drove much of our decision-making, including the keyboard,” says the manufacturer.

Airbus says that its decision was driven by its perception that the design needed to be modernised: “The original MCDU design dates back to the days when few people typed, but now the qwerty design is familiar due to the widespread use of PCs, so we decided to harmonise with what pilots are used to in their daily life.”

Boeing customers can still opt for a qwerty keyboard to control the Class 3 electronic flight bag (EFB) – as is also available on the Airbus aircraft equipped with the on-board information terminal or FlySmart EFB.

Airbus does not anticipate any commonality issues with the existing Airbus types, and the A350 will have the same type rating as the A330 despite its cockpit incorporating some significantly new technology. Pilots will require four days of difference training to switch between the A330 and A350 – one day less than that required to move between the 777 and 787.

The opposing philosophy on the keyboard follows other fundamental differences of opinion that the two companies have held on cockpit design: Boeing still resolutely retains control yokes for its fly-by-wire airliners despite Airbus’s introduction of side-stick controllers 20 years ago; nor does the US manufacturer share Airbus’s philosophy that power levers should remain stationary and not be back-driven when under autothrottle control.

MAX KINGSLEY-JONES / LONDON with additional reporting by Guy Norris in Los Angeles

Source: Flight International