The use of head-up displays (HUDs) in Chinese commercial aircraft has made a key advance in China with the decision by one of the country’s three biggest airlines, China Eastern, to introduce the technology into its narrowbody aircraft.

With the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) targeting near-universal use of HUDs by 2025, China Eastern has ordered Rockwell Collins HUDs for 58 Boeing 737s, with deliveries due from mid-2013 to 2015.

Okay Airways, a much smaller carrier, has ordered the same equipment for 10 737s, with similar delivery dates to China Eastern’s.

HUDs are becoming steadily more common in commercial aviation globally because they increase safety and landing opportunities in bad weather by keeping pilots’ attention outside of the aircraft, and they also can help guide the landing. But the CAAC’s policy is making manufacturers optimistic that the Chinese market will mature early.

Thales and Rockwell Collins are well positioned as the suppliers for the Airbus A320 family and the 737, respectively.

The Chinese market alone is considerable. Rockwell Collins, for example, says its HUD, the Head-up Guidance System (HGS), has a catalog price of about $350,000 per set.

On that basis, the two contracts announced on April 2 are worth about $24 million, before discounts.

Shandong Airlines appears to have been the first Chinese carrier to begin using HUDs. It ordered the HGS for 737s around the middle of last decade, says Wen Hailin, director of sales and support for Rockwell Collins commercial systems in China.

China Southern ordered its five Airbus A380s with Thales HUDs. Xiamen Airlines uses Rockwell Collins HUDs on its 737s.

The Comac C919 is expected to have HUDs from at least one manufacturer. The Thales equipment is a candidate, says Olivier Guibert, president of Thales’s Chinese and North Asian operations.

Rockwell Collins is talking to Airbus about making the HGS available on the European manufacturer’s aircraft, says Wen.

Like regulators elsewhere, the CAAC is allowing pilots to land aircraft in poorer visibility when their aircraft is fitted with a suitable HUDs, although the Chinese officials are being a little more conservative.

Seven Chinese airports have approval for such operations, says Rockwell Collins: Beijing, Shanghai Pudong, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xi’an, Qingdao and Jinan. “There are 58 additional airports scheduled to be approved for lower landing minima in the next two years,” the company adds.

By 2015, the CAAC wants HUDs in 10% of aircraft that can be fitted with them. By 2025, they should all have them. It is not clear whether the rule will apply to foreign aircraft coming to China, says one industry executive.