Air Transport World

Bigger & smarter: with a host of new and upgraded cockpit systems, the A380 will impress by more than just its size.(Large Transports)(Airbus)(Cover Story)

Remember when the A320 cockpit looked like the command deck of the Starship Enterprise? It was designed in 1984, when a high-end IBM PC AT came with a 20-MB hard drive and ran at a screaming 6 MHz. Now that 512 megs of storage fits on something the size of a snack cracker and clock speeds have passed 3 GHz, Airbus is building the A380 and--not surprisingly it represents the biggest change since the A320 in the design of the manufacturer's cockpit and avionics systems.

The A380 strikes a balance between incorporating new technology and maintaining commonality with the rest of the Airbus family, something that the European company finds increasingly valuable as the worldwide fleet grows. Cockpit Functions Manager Jean-Francois Desmoulins explains: "Our biggest step in training today is from the A320 to the A340, and we expect that to take eight days rather than 25 days for a completely different airplane. Our goal is a similar step--eight days--from the A340 to the A380, but the new technology should not be blocked by the existing cockpit."

The result is a recognizably Airbus cockpit but with important improvements and some completely new features. Behind the screens is a largely new avionics system that is intended to deliver a higher level of reliability, fault-tolerance and ease of upgrade to the operator.

The A380 takes Integrated Modular Avionics to the next level, according to Systems Director Michel Comes. The open-architecture IMA covers most of the systems on the airplane, using standard components and modules to the greatest possible extent. "Our objective is to have most of our systems controlled by software," says Comes. Software within the IMA runs the landing gear, brakes, fuel and electrical systems, environmental control system and other ancillaries--flight and engine control are separate. This software is developed by each system supplier--for example, Parker develops the software for the fuel system--and is hosted on computers produced by Airbus or Thales. The computers come in eight varieties, with the same CPU and different numbers and types of connectors.

The computers that control each system talk to each other and to the cockpit controls and displays via the Avionics Full Duplexed Ethernet. …

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