China Eastern to Become First Airline Flying Airbus A350 Touchscreen Cockpit Displays

China Eastern Airlines is the first of 20 carriers to take delivery of the new touchscreen-enabled Airbus A350 cockpit, pictured here. Photo: Airbus

China Eastern has become the first airline to take delivery of an Airbus A350 equipped with touchscreen cockpit displays provided by Thales, accepting the upgraded flight deck during a ceremony in Toulouse on Dec. 18.

The delivery was made possible after Thales achieved certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for the integrated touchscreen displays in November, with the French avionics maker describing this as the “first screen of its type in the world to gain certification for use on board commercial aircraft.” China Eastern is one of 20 airlines that has ordered the touch capable cockpit for the A350.

According to Airbus, the touch capability is now available on three of the A350’s six different 15-inch displays, including the two outer most displays and the lower-center display. These displays now offer touchscreen capability for the pilots that are using the aircraft’s standard electronic flight bag (EFB).

When the pilot selects the onboard information system option on the center downward facing display, the touchscreen capability becomes enabled and both pilots can manipulate EFB information. Photo: Airbus

This new method of input complements the existing physical keyboard integrated into the retractable table in front of each pilot and also the keyboard and trackball “keyboard-cursor control unit” (KCCU) located on the center console, Airbus said in a description of the new functionality.

“It is a landmark in the cockpit evolution offering pilots a new user experience and enabling airlines to accelerate their digital transformation,” Jean-Paul Ebanga, vice president of flight avionics for Thales said in a statement.

Ebanga said the newly certified touchscreen configuration uses the same technology features in the Thales FlytX avionics suite that was recently selected by Airbus Helicopters for the H160M that will be operated by the French Armament General Directorate (DGA). Pilots can use the touchscreen capability to pinch, zoom in and drag flight information elements on the displays similar to the way a smartphone user engages with mobile applications.

Jean-Michel Roy, an Airbus test pilot, demonstrates the use of the new touchscreen displays during a video overview of the capability in China Eastern’s first touchscreen-enabled A350. Photo: Airbus

“During approach, it will also be interesting for the pilot, to prepare its approach before the briefing. This extended interactivity is very interesting during high workload, allowing reduced multiple cursor displacement in the cockpit while also maintaining the symmetry of the cockpit,” Jean-Michel Roy, a test pilot for Airbus, said in a video from the cockpit of China Eastern’s first touch-enabled A350.

As of Dec. 1, Airbus had received a total of 959 orders for the A350 from 51 different customers.

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