Flight Options ponders cockpit commonality

 - May 7, 2008, 7:27 AM

Flight Options, the Cleveland-based provider of fractional-ownership shares in pre-owned business jets, has started to explore the possibility of developing common cockpit layouts across most of its fleet.

“The avionics in our airplanes can be dramatically different from one aircraft to the next,” said Flight Options vice president Jim Miller, who is leading the effort to develop standard avionics for retrofit in the company’s airplanes. “In a Citation III, for instance, it can be difficult to transition from one airplane to another without having to learn the cockpit all over again. In fact, we dedicate crews to specific N-numbers.”

With a full upgrade to EFIS and multifunction displays in a typical business jet cockpit currently priced at $2.5 million or more, Flight Options is searching for other solutions, said Miller. His vision is for a common cockpit that would use
the same part-numbered displays and components, thereby ensuring avionics parts availability at greatly reduced costs.

“We want a common cockpit for the Cessna CJ all the way through to the Falcon 50,” said Miller. Flight Options’ fleet consists of CitationJets, Beechjets, Citation IIIs and Vs, the Hawker 800, Falcon 50, Challenger 601 and Gulfstream IV.

Miller said Flight Options has been in contact with the large avionics makers about the common cockpit idea, and has also been in touch with smaller players.

One such company is Innovative Solutions & Support, a Malvern, Pa. maker of low-cost RVSM air-data systems for business aircraft. IS&S is currently flight testing a high-resolution LCD in a Pilatus PC-12 that measures 15 in. diagonally. The design features round dials on the display, a rather unorthodox way to portray flight instruments on a PFD. Miller said he has been in discussions with the company about incorporating vertical tapes instead.

“Vertical tapes just happen to be what we like,” said Miller. “The display is really just a palette, anyway. Whatever you decide to put on it, in whatever configuration, it’s all possible through software modifications.”

Miller said an airplane such as the Falcon 50 probably could be retrofitted with five displays, which would be common to the model. This way pilots could train on a single platform and move from one aircraft to another without having to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of a specific cockpit.

The complete cockpits would be assembled and tested on the ground, and then moved into the airplane for final installation. Miller said he believes this type of retrofit program could move along rapidly, thereby dramatically reducing labor costs. While admitting that challenges, such as redesigning cockpit wiring, certainly exist, he said he  believes they are surmountable.