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While many aircraft models have streamlined their design processes to include the implementation of similar modern devices and systems such as the glass cockpit, the controls for steering the aircraft itself still remains a divisive design choice for some manufacturers. As the two largest passenger aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing continue to provide different steering controls for their pilots. Within a typical Airbus cockpit, pilots can steer the aircraft with a side stick. Meanwhile, Boeing aircraft utilize a yoke control. With both continuing to be present in their respective aircraft lines and in future models, what are the differences between each and why do they continue to differ?
Before Airbus introduced the A320 family of airliners, almost all aircraft utilized a yoke that was centrally placed within the cockpit. With a yoke as the primary control for the aircraft, pilots could manually direct the aircraft and its functions with ease. As such, the yoke part remained a staple for aircraft cockpit design for many years. With the release of the A320 aircraft during the 1980’s, Airbus shook up this standard by replacing the yoke with a side stick. These changes also came with a fly-by-wire system that was implemented in lieu of manual flight controls, allowing for pilots to utilize computers for more efficient piloting. Before the introduction of the airbus side stick to airliners, such components were mostly found on military aircraft and fighter jets such as the F-16.
Although the Airbus side stick shook up the industry standard that had been followed for so long, it was done with specific intentions in mind. For one, the side stick allowed for a more simplistic cockpit configuration that was streamlined for the pilots’ benefit. With the additional installation of new information systems, the placement of the side stick allows for pilots to monitor information easily while comfortably controlling the aircraft. Additionally, the Airbus side stick also allowed the family of airliners to differ themselves from their main competitor, that of which was the 737 line of Boeing aircraft. After provings its popularity, Airbus continued to utilize the side stick for many of their aircraft lines, now presenting cockpit and computer systems that take advantage of the new room given for pilots. With new and upcoming models, touchscreen cockpits have slowly been introduced for the efficiency of flight operations, and such innovations were made possible due to removing the yoke.
Despite Airbus’ move to rid their airliners of the standard yoke, Boeing has still chosen to continue with what works for their current lines. While one may think that it would best to follow suit in introducing the side stick, there are very important reasons that Boeing has remained firm in not doing so. For one, the yoke is a tried and true method of control for aircraft, and changing such controls would force pilots to have to relearn new systems for piloting. Additionally, Boeing’s yoke has not proved detrimental in their mission to continue advancing systems with newer technologies and capabilities. As such, Boeing has been able to similarly move forward with touchscreen flight decks, all while retaining their traditional yoke. Because of this, they have found no major reason to change what already works well for pilots and manufacturers alike.
Regardless of which type is present in an aircraft, both come with their various advantages and disadvantages. With the Airbus side stick, proponents argue that flight can be conducted more comfortably, and it is easier to control everything with a free hand. Meanwhile, opponents of the side stick state that the yoke allows for better handling during emergencies, and allows for pilots to operate a larger variety of aircraft that utilize similar technologies. As such, the decision can often be personal and vary based on the pilot, and many will learn both in order to efficiently operate Boeing and Airbus aircraft.
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