Everett or Toulouse?
So is it going to be Tatter Tots or French Fries? Apple pie or croissant? The Met or The Louvre? Ah, if it were only that easy!
The A310/A320 panels are laid out in a very attractive manner. Let’s face it, the French know beauty (can you say Marcel Dassault?) and often times an aircraft that looks beautiful also performs beautifully. Beauty, of course, is fairly subjective. I do like the clean look of the Airbus main and overhead panels. Additionally, I like the fact that the overhead systems paths are color coded. When I look up at the Airbus overheads and compare them to looking up at the 767 overhead, I feel I can much more readily identify a normal or abnormal condition on the Airbus. The 727 is at an obvious disadvantage, being designed to have an entire dedicated set of eyes looking upon the Flight Engineer panels. I know it is an odd thing to say, but I also like the neutral grey color of the Airbus panel backgrounds compared to the tobacco stained brown of the 767. (Screens will be Airbus left / Boeing right.)
Externally, I prefer the looks of the 767 to the A310. The A310 looks a bit “pudgy” compared to the long and lean 767. The A310 does have a bit more of a “rakish” tail section however, making it look a bit less boxy than the more angular lines of the 767. All of the contenders in our lineup lose out to the timeless shape of the 727 though. Such a classic and airworthy looking form, the 727 standing still looks like it is ready to slice through the air without effort. Looking toward the future I suspect that the Boeing 787 will take the prize for sexy new airplane shapes (if you like the flying bullet train look) compared to the cattle-car looking A380.
FMS, FMC, MCDU or a Flight Engineer? It’s hard not to be biased on this category since the 767 FMS more closely resembles what I am used to working with. All of the flight management systems appear to be super-powerful, and given more time with the Airbus boxes I’m sure I would grow to like them as much as I enjoyed the 767 FMS. I feel like I slighted the SSW A310 during my write-up on that aircraft and I think I only glossed over how truly functional it is. With the advent of more powerful avionics and computers the Flight Engineer position is no longer a part of modern aircraft design. Ironically though, as aircraft become bigger and more fuel efficient, a third relief crew member is often being assigned to flying duty on longer transoceanic flights and room is being put aside for crew rest stations as well. The Flight Engineer position is likely to linger however as many aircraft requiring an FE (DC-10, B-727, DC-8) are still flying all over the world today and probably will be for a couple more decades!