What's it like to fly the A350? Only a handful of pilots know for sure, but Jean-Michel Roy has a pretty good idea. The Airbus test pilot has flown a variety of yet-to-be-certified aircraft over the years, and he'll soon step behind the controls of the company's answer to Boeing's Dreamliner, the A350. While the first batch of pilots are back at the aviation giant's Toulouse HQ preparing for the next test flight, Roy is schmoozing with customers a few hundred miles to the north, at the Paris Air Show. It's an arguably safer task for the industry vet, but something tells us he's itching to climb aboard this latest wide-body aircraft. We were hoping for such an opportunity here in Paris, but a delayed rollout means attendees will be lucky just to see the A350 perform an unscheduled flyover sometime over the next few days, with a cockpit mockup serving to satisfy airline execs for now.
As deep-pocketed buyers queued up for a first look at the A350 flight deck, we managed to sneak a quick peek, with Jean-Michel Roy on hand to answer questions and provide a video tour. As you might expect, the cockpit is as modern as they come, with large LCDs taking the place of traditional avionics. In fact, the layout looks more like something you'd find on a stock broker's desk -- it's quite a contrast to the aging panels many commercial pilots still use today. The overhead system controls are presented in a layout similar to what you'll find on an A320 or A330, as is the flight control unit just below the windshield. The screens below, however, are much more accessible, offering up aircraft manuals, charts, checklists, camera feeds, weather information -- you name it. A trackball and keyboard make it easy to enter info, while side-mounted joysticks let the pilots control orientation while also serving to create a cleaner look and feel. Fly past the break for a first-hand look at this state-of-the-art demo deck.