Thales is planning to make its touch-screen driven avionics human interface system available for integration into commercial aircraft by 2020.

The manufacturer’s ‘Avionics 2020’ vision, which will be shown next week at the Paris air show, uses technologies developed from its Avionics 2030 ideas displayed in 2010.

While that design envisioned the use of a single large display with curved contours, the technology to produce such a unit is not yet consider robust or reliable enough for aviation use, so the design, displayed at the French manufacturer’s site in Bordeaux uses four large sweeping wide-screen displays allowing smart-phone-style touch screen gestures to display navigation and aircraft data.

The systems are expected to be fully compatible with future air traffic management systems including the European Union’s Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar), the FAA’s NextGen and the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Aviation System Block Upgrades.

The interface has been developed at Thales’s new Cockpit Competence Center, which aims to use similar methods as major technology companies such as Apple and Google to bring together experts from different fields to identify and develop technologies which could make their way into the cockpit.

A key part of the design philosophy is to keep a pilot’s eyes outside the cockpit, so engineers have been looking at ways avionics can be presented. Alain Paul, director of the cockpit competency center, says that the commercial market would not accept systems such as helmet-mounted displays, and that work was underway to explore the potential of projecting head-up-display information onto the cockpit windows or perhaps adopt a Google Glass type display for eyewear.

With head down, the pilot is presented with full-color wide-screen displays, but Thales envisions that these will use dark colors, such as blue, black and grey to present normal flight data while aircraft warnings will be flashed in red and yellow.

The user-interface, shown to Aviation Week in simulator form, minimizes the amount of information displayed to the pilot. During cruise, the pilot would be shown a moving map in the center console and the standard artificial horizon with attitude, height and speed.

Information about the flight can be displayed graphically while airfield maps can be zoomed using the traditional pinch movements used on smartphones and tablets. With systems such as Sesar expected to use data communications to deliver information such a taxi-clearances, the messages received from traffic control can be interpreted by the avionics software and displayed onto a moving map using Digital Taxi. Tapping an airport on the moving map brings up a series of options including the various radio frequencies and details of notice to airmen. A screen in the center console features icons for key aircraft systems such as the engines, fuel systems, electrical and hydraulic systems potentially eliminating the need for the cockpit overhead console, helping save weight and reducing complexity.

“We are using the multi-touch because that can help to reduce the training burden,” said Paul. “These movements are very natural, because people are using their smart phones with them, there is no need to introduce a new set of rules for people to relearn.”