The Usability Evaluation of a Touch Screen in the Flight Deck

The Usability Evaluation of a Touch Screen in the Flight Deck

Stefano Bonelli (Deep Blue Srl, Italy) and Linda Napoletano (Deep Blue Srl, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4046-7.ch012


This chapter presents and discusses an Expert Usability Evaluation for a flight deck touch screen prototype, carried out in one European co-funded project called ALICIA ( Through the presentation of this evaluation activity and its impact on the rest of design process, this chapter will address some methodological issues on usability in complex domains: 1) The specific context in which the technology is introduced has to be well known by the designers as it provides crucial constraints to be taken into account; 2) Evaluating complex safety critical systems entails the use of a holistic multidisciplinary approach and an iterative design process that involve, in different phases, several type of experts (engineers, human factors, usability experts, end users and stakeholders); and 3) The level of maturity of the technology and the evaluation objectives contribute to the definition of the evaluation methods to be used.
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Setting The Stage

In the following paragraphs the importance of the context and the appropriate complexity is highlighted.

The Flight Deck Complexity

The flight deck (also known as cockpit) is the area where a pilot controls the aircraft. This area is located in front of the plane or helicopter and, from it, the aircraft is controlled when moving on the ground and when flying in the air. The cockpit of an aircraft contains flight instruments (providing information such as height, speed and attitude) and controls (which enable the pilot to fly the aircraft).

Early commercial aircraft crew stations featured systems with dedicated control and monitoring facilities. This means that every function (e.g. radio, altimeter) had a dedicated instrument in the cockpit. All these controls were analogic ones as, prior to the 1970s, computer based technology was not mature enough and no sufficiently light and powerful circuits were available. The increasing complexity of transport aircraft and the growing air traffic congestion around airports turned this approach became unsustainable because there was insufficient space to accommodate all the dedicated controls and displays (the evolution in the distribution of the space is illustrated by the Concorde crew station in Figure 1). A commercial aircraft in the mid-1970s had more than one hundred instruments and controls, and the primary flight instruments were already full of indicators, crossbars, and symbols, and the growing number of cockpit elements impacted cockpit space and pilot attention. This design also imposed a high system management and control workload on the crew resulting in the need for three crewmembers on the flight deck of large aircraft.

Figure 1.

Concorde cockpit (1970) and A380 crew station (2005)

The advent of digital systems changed this approach. By the end of the 1990s, Liquid crystal display (LCD) panels were increasingly introduced by aircraft manufacturers because of their efficiency, reliability and legibility. This is the so called “glass cockpit,” featuring electronic (digital) instrument displays, typically large LCD screens, as opposed to the traditional style of analogue dials and gauges. Where a traditional cockpit relies on numerous mechanical gauges to display information, a glass cockpit uses several displays driven by flight management systems that can be adjusted to display flight information as needed. This simplifies aircraft operation and navigation and allows pilots to focus only on the most pertinent information.

This approach has allowed the industry to accommodate new requirements and operating procedures and removed the need for the third crew member. The A380 cockpit (depicted in Figure 1) represents the current state-of-the-art using this level of technology.

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