A bigger cockpit window would increase the pilot's vision of a runway. So why can't they be bigger?

Note that this question covers cabin window size already, but this question is about cockpit windows specifically.

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    $\begingroup$ Larger windows would be harder to make strong enough. I'm sure there's an engineering tradeoff somewhere. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ For one, the 787 has pretty big windows... $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 1:44
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    $\begingroup$ hmm... It looks like that other question is concerned more with passenger cabin windows than flight deck windows. Having said that, flight deck windows are usually sufficiently large to see the runway just fine on pretty much all airliners. They usually wrap all the way around for at least 180 degrees of vision. And the runway is (hopefully) down rather than up, so making them taller wouldn't help (unless you reduce the size of the instrument panel and/or get rid of the radome.) $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 2:41
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed things could always be more... wings could be could be used to store baggage, radios could be stereo, landing lights could be brighter, windows could be opened, there could be a single pilot, or even none. planes could have built-in lifts, crews could have video links with ATC to see the ATC guys, and ATC guys could have a look within the cabin to be sure the crew is not sleeping. All that is possible, but comes at a price, and to the detriment of something else. Do pilots complain about cockpit windows in the first place? $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ @mins Indeed - everything is a trade-off of some description and that alone can pretty much answer almost any decision as to "Why isn't it like this instead?" $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 20:29

1 Answer 1


The reason is that bigger windows really aren't necessary. They are plenty big for the crew to see the runway just fine. Pilots have more than 180 degrees of visibility, and plenty of vertical visibility as well. Traffic routes and patterns are designed to make it easy for the pilots to see the runway as well. If the runway is behind you, then you need to turn around. If it's below what you can see out the window, you are too high anyway. And if it's above what you can see out the window, you probably have more important issues than finding the runway.

Larger windows can help spot danger like other aircraft, but airliners are almost always flown under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) where ATC is responsible for keeping them clear of conflicting traffic.

In the past, some airliners did have larger window area. This was more important in an era where instrument navigation was more limited, and the pilots relied much more on their view outside. It was also more common on aircraft with military heritage, where it was more likely for pilots to find themselves relying on visual references instead of navigational aids.

However, modern navigation systems have made larger windows even less useful. The instruments can tell pilots just about anything they need to know about anything they can't see out the windows. The 737 actually started with "eyebrow windows" above the main row of windows. Modern systems have made those less useful, and the extra holes in the fuselage can cause cracks over time. Most 737's delivered today don't have them, and some of the old planes even get those windows plugged.

Aside from the functional reasons for not increasing window size, the same structural concerns of cabin windows will apply here as well.

  • $\begingroup$ I read the brow windows on 737s get plugged because sun has a nasty habit of shining through them and making the instruments harder to see due to reflections. Structurally it won't help, because the skin already isn't one piece. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ ROFL "And if it's above what you can see out the window, you probably have more important issues than finding the runway." $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ Re "airliners are almost always flown under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) where ATC is responsible for keeping them clear of conflicting traffic." -- this statement is arguably ambiguous or incorrect. Only in certain airspace (Class C or higher) is ATC responsible for keeping IFR aircraft clear of VFR traffic-- and in fact in that very same airspace, ATC is also responsible for keeping VFR traffic clear of VFR traffic. So flying under IFR actually has nothing to do with it. Of course in Class A airspace, there is no VFR traffic, but airliner operations are not limited to Class A airspace. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 25, 2020 at 14:03

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