Introduced on the single-aisle family in the 1980s, fly-by-wire (FBW) technology is one of Airbus' principal competitive advantages. Its beginnings, however, were not an easy ride.
A CIVIL AVIATION FIRST
The use of fly-by-wire controls with their optimised side-stick controllers is a primary competitive advantage for Airbus, which has applied this innovation on each jetliner in its product line since the technology’s introduction in the civil air transport sector with its A320.
Fly-by-wire has now become the industry standard, with a large majority of pilots praising the handling qualities of Airbus aircraft and their commonality across the complete range of products, from the company’s smallest aircraft – the A318 – to its double-deck A380 and new-generation A350 XWB.
Years of reliable service around the world have underscored fly-by-wire’s significant benefits through commonality, improved flight safety, reduced pilot workload, a reduction of mechanical parts, and real-time monitoring of all aircraft systems.
A LANDMARK CIVIL INNOVATION
Incorporating fly-by-wire controls on the A320 allowed Airbus to tailor the aircraft’s computer flight control laws – adapting them to the pilots’ side-stick controllers that replaced previous-generation control yokes – while also introducing flight envelope protection. As a result, flight safety was greatly increased and the crew’s workload was reduced.
Since the initial A320s, this technology has made significant progress, especially in the field of digital computers. Airbus has introduced new advancements in technology as appropriate, while its fly-by-wire philosophy – and the benefits it provides – have not changed. The flight control laws have remained very similar, even with new refinements introduced over the years. As a result, all Airbus aircraft have nearly identical cockpit design and handling qualities that considerably reduce training times required to transfer from one aircraft to another.
BENEFITS FOR OPERATORS
Weight savings, lower maintenance costs and greater precision in flying are among the advantages of the fly-by-wire system employed on Airbus jetliners. The weight savings from the replacement of heavy mechanical control cables provides a significant reduction in fuel consumption. In additional, as electrical controls are less complex and easier to maintain than mechanical ones, the use of fly-by-wire translates into lower maintenance costs for operators.
By giving a direct input through electrical signals, commands are much more precise – enhancing overall safety. Furthermore, the control system monitors pilot commands to ensure the aircraft is kept within the flight protection envelope. As a result, the pilot always can get the maximum performance out of the aircraft without running the risk of exceeding safety margins.
Fly-by-wire technology has enabled Airbus to develop a true family of aircraft with the highest degree of operational commonality, with nearly identical cockpit designs and handling characteristics. This makes crew training and conversion shorter, simpler and highly cost-effective for airlines – and allows pilots to remain current on more than one aircraft type simultaneously without supplementary takeoff/landing requirements, recurrent training and annual checks.