An Overview of Interactivity in the BizAv Flight Deck

Ken Elliott dives below the surface of aircraft communications, surveillance, navigation and connectivity in the modern business aircraft cockpit, this month providing an overview of the interactive cockpit.

Ken Elliott  |  30th August 2023
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Ken Elliott
Ken Elliott

Ken Elliott is a veteran with 52 years of aviation experience, focussed on avionics in General and Business...

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An outline of todays interactive BizAv cockpit

There was a time when cockpit systems would not have been considered truly interactive. Cockpits consisted of dedicated systems, each with their own set of controls and displays where the pilots were left to figure out how each separate piece of information from one system should be interpreted in relation to another.

Cockpit panels were busy, with multiple dials, annunciators and indicators. In fact, they were so cluttered that on larger aircraft it was necessary to add a third crew member with their own engineer’s panel. Until human factors became a studied discipline, pilot interaction, although somewhat already in effect, was never considered a crucial part of Cockpit Resource Management (CRM), whereas it is now.

Creative innovation within the cockpit has mostly been derived from Part 23 aircraft development and certification where requirements for both were less restrictive. Novel ideas were, and still are, designed and engineered into products quickly and at less cost. Eventually turbine aircraft caught up as the lead avionics providers incorporated their own robust versions of novel General Aviation products.

It takes a lot of time and money to labor through the necessary rigors of Part 25 aircraft certification. Interestingly, companies such as Garmin that originally blossomed within the Part 23 environment are now well established in Part 25 aircraft. They bring with them a wealth of efficient and economical innovation.

Equally, companies such as Universal Avionics (Elbit Systems) that initially earned their bread on niche Part 25 avionic solutions are now providing turnkey cockpits for many legacy turbine aircraft, and thrive in aftermarket upgrades.

Figure 1 - Essence of a Modern Interactive Cockpit

Now that cockpit displays are touch screen, can handle more data, have less physical depth, and incorporate larger screen ‘glass technology’, interaction between pilot and panel is much more intuitive.

There is added capability and step-reducing ergonomic design embedded within minimized cockpit instrumentation. Even the traditional yoke is being replaced by sidesticks, while dedicated standby instruments displaying compass, horizon, airspeed and altimeter information are being combined into a single integrated display along with back-up navigation and other flight data.

The modern interactive cockpit is therefore ‘clean’, intuitive and ergonomic in design. Further, the right interactive cockpit allows an easy transition for the pilot(s) to completely hand fly the aircraft, monitor and then easily select essential information to allow for a safe descent, approach and landing should it be necessary. 

General Description of Interactivity in the Flight Deck

Interaction in a typical turbine cockpit depends on its build date. Nevertheless, there are essential elements that apply to all aircraft regarding technical innovation and design.

Firstly, the cockpit is the interface between pilot(s) and the aircraft’s systems. From there aircraft and engines are directed throughout a flight. Remote systems receive, process, analyze and provide resultant data to steer, control, transmit, display and inform. Activity takes place both internally and externally to the aircraft.

Much of the activity is happening simultaneously, and some of it occurs behind the scenes. Modern cockpit designers go to great lengths to ensure pilots only see what they need to see for each leg of a trip, aiming to minimize the potential for confusion by prioritizing information, while easing the ability to access data when it’s needed.

Figure 2 -  Interactive Flight Control and Information

Today’s cockpit must be able to communicate with, and inform between Air Traffic Control (ATC), external Service Providers and the flight crew, often non-sequentially. This requires a wide bandwidth of capability (see Figure 1 above left) – especially within the aircraft systems – and consistent monitoring by the flight crew.

Figure 2 (see above), meanwhile, provides a deeper dive into the interactive ‘flight control and information’ between the aircraft and its pilot(s), ATC, other aircraft and service providers. Service providers are the contracted conduit for flight data and communications between the aircraft and Air-to-Ground (ATG), satellite providers, OEM monitoring and flight services.

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