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Flight Deck Real Estate Market Heats Up: Human factors considerations for display location and primary field of view

Location is King

The housing market may still be barely crawling along, but a new battle for prime real estate is heating up in the aviation industry. I am not talking about traditional real estate properties, but rather the critical user display and control interface space (or real estate) available in the flight deck. In the real estate game, finding the right location for clients is perhaps the most critical element of being successful. “Location” is also an essential piece of successfully designing controls and information displays by finding the appropriate spot for the specific component.

In aircraft flight deck design, there is a limited amount of primo real estate available and the top neighborhood for the elite clients is the PFOV district (the Primary Field of View). Only the most important clients are able to gain access to the exclusive PFOV district, the viewing area that provides the best acuity and is the most likely to attract attention. Placing critical information and controls in the primary field of view allows the pilot to see them with minimal head and eye movement and helps ensure that they will be easy to identify.

Increased Competition

With many new NextGen technologies being introduced into flight operations, the pilots will have access to more information than ever before, and, as a result, interface designers are being presented with new challenges for how to present the information and how to allow for the pilots to manage their access to that information. The competition for placing controls and information in the PFOV will be greater than ever. It will be important to understand the relevant human factors considerations and human performance implications when making these design decisions to prioritize the placement of information on the flight deck and to make sure the neighbors get along!

Which way to the PFOV district?

So where is the PFOV? Many human factors guidelines describe the PFOV as the area that is seen the most quickly, often defined as the area within a 15-degree angle of the normal line of sight, and the normal line of sight has been defined as about 15 degrees below the horizontal. Other sources define the primary field of view as the area within 30 degrees of the normal line of sight, with the highest priority alerts recommended to be within 15 degrees. The FAA makes a distinction between optimum primary field of view and maximum primary field of view. The FAA definition of the optimum primary field of view is also +/- 15 degrees, but for the maximum primary field of view the FAA specifies +/- 35 degrees horizontally and + 40 degrees up/-20 degrees down vertically (see Figure).

Figure1: FAA AC 23.1311-1B Installation of Electronic Display in Part 23 Airplanes provides the following detailed definition and illustration of the primary field of view (Horiz=horizontal, NOM=normal, DN=down, LT=left, RT=right, C/L=centerline)

Who resides in the PFOV?

As you can see from the definition above, the PFOV district is a limited territory. So who (or what) makes the cut…How do we decide what controls and displays should be prioritized to be in the primary field of view?
Here are a just a few general guidelines for acceptance in the PFOV.

Primary flight instruments, alerting information, and other critical controls and displays should be in the primary field of view for these reasons:

• To attract attention
• To ensure visual accessibility (viewability and identifiability)
• To ensure usability with associated displays and controls in the primary visual field

Critical information should be presented so that the pilots can access it quickly. Specific examples include:

• Important, but infrequent messages and alarms
• Elements that require constant monitoring, such as primary flight displays
• A central master alarm light should be provided in cases where caution warning or emergency lights have been located outside of the pilot’s PFOV

Information provided only for situation awareness should not be displayed in the primary field of view.

This town isn’t big enough for the both of us

Frequently-used and critical components both have been recommended to be located in the PFOV District. Finding space for critical information in the primary field of view may require that other frequently-used information be displayed outside of the PFOV. In these cases, frequently-used components should be immediately adjacent to the primary field to minimize eye, head, and body movement. These requirements must be balanced with each other so that each type of information is visually accessible, as appropriate, for a given task and do not cause unnecessary pilot fatigue.

Tell me more, tell me more

Our HFYI Design CoPilot application ( is a decision-support tool for human factors flight deck design and certification. The tool provides complete sets of human factors considerations (HFCs) for control, display, and system design – all linked with information from human factors research literature as well as FAA regulations and guidance documents. You can use these HFCs and linked documents to help further identify and resolve issues related to managing real estate in the PFOV district. The HFYI Design CoPilot and the human factors considerations can help ensure that you are asking all of the right questions and gathering the necessary information to work your way through the design decision making process. Visit today to learn more about it and to sign up for a free trial.

The HFYI Design CoPilot application contains human factors research information synthesized from well-respected human factors literature and provides extensive references throughout for the sources of information it provides. By using the HFYI Design Copilot, you won’t have to wade through all these resources to get to the nuggets of information you are looking for. Therefore, the following is a list of human factors literature used for this article that you now won’t have to read to learn what you want to know about PFOV:

Boff, K. R., & Lincoln, J. E. (Eds.). (1988). Engineering data compendium: Human perception and performance. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH: Harry G. Armstrong Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory.

Grether, W. F., & Baker, C. A. (1972). Visual presentation of information. In H.P. Van Cott & R. G. Kinkade (Eds.), Human engineering guide to equipment design (pp. 41-121). Washington, D.C.: American Institutes for Research.

Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. (1997). Situational awareness guidelines (NAWCAD No. PAX–96-268-TM). Arlington, VA: Naval Air Systems Command.

Sanders, M. S., & McCormick, E. J. (1993). Arrangement of components within a physical space. In Human factors in engineering and design (7th ed., pp. 456-484). New York: McGraw-Hill.

United States Army. (1981). Military handbook: Human factors engineering design for Army materiel (US Army No. MIL-HDBK-759A(MI)). Redstone Arsenal, AL: United States Army Missile Command.

Woodson, W. E. (1998). User/product interface and environmental influences that interact to produce safety scenarios. In Human factors engineering for forensic and safety specialists (pp. 17-33). Tucson, AZ: Lawyers & Judges Publishing.

Woodson, W. E. (1998). User limiting characteristics that designers must consider in design of consumer products. In Human factors engineering for forensic and safety specialists (pp. 37-62). Tucson, AZ: Lawyers & Judges Publishing.

Woodson, W. E. (1998). Graphics. In Human factors engineering for forensic and safety specialists (pp. 183-207). Tucson, AZ: Lawyers & Judges Publishing.

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