This question focuses on Airbus, like the A320, but is not restricted to those aircraft as the situation seems to be the same for other aircraft.

In front of the left seat, the navigation display is displayed at the right of the the primary flight display, and it is the inverse of the right seat.

Is there a technical reason to do so? An historical one?


3 Answers 3


It's hard to see from the angle that your example photos were taken from, but the main reason is that they want the primary flight instruments (which are on the PFD, or Primary Flight Display) directly in front of the pilot, no matter which seat they are in.

The PFD gives the most critical information which is used to actualy control and fly the aircraft, so is designed to be in the pilot's direct line of sight.

Less critical information is put on the MFD (Multi Function Display). Since the pilots sit close to each side of the cockpit, this usually means that there isn't room to place the MFD on the outside of the PFD. Even if there was room, the extra display is used partially for redundancy, so they don't want to put it further away from the other pilot.

Since the PFD is directly in front of each pilot, it doesn't take any effort to switch between seats because of that aspect.

This photo (it's night, so a little dark but I think that you can see what I'm referring to) was taken from my head level while sitting in the right seat, which should make it pretty clear:

Cockpit Photo with PFD and MFD own photo


I'm not sure if cockpit displays are swapped between the pilot and copilot. Usually, the pilot (or for that matter copilot) will have their PFD (Primary Flight Display) right in from of them, with the navigation (and other) displays on their side. My guess is that this is the reason the displays appear symmetric.

Cockpit display

Source: www.avweb.com

This photo, though from a helicopter (Bell 412) clearly shows the pilot and copilot PFDs right in front of them, in the same line as cyclic and between the rudder pedals.

Bell 412 cockpit

Source: latinairforces.blogspot.com

Also, note that the information displayed could be switched between the two displays. Usually one display always shows the important flight info (i.e. acts as the PFD) while the other can be changed to show what the pilot wants.


It has to be symmetric because otherwise you would have to have a different arrangement of controls on either side.

The shape of the console is different left to right, so, for example, there is more room in the center of the panel than the outer edge. Everything is arranged to fit efficiently into that space. To use the same arrangement on the other side of the panel, everything has to be flipped mirror image.

It would be bad to have different arrangements of controls in the two positions, because it would be confusing to the pilots. Sometimes pilots sit in one seat, and other times in the other. They should have the same basic arrangement of controls in both cases.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your answer is self contradictory: The symmetry is exactly what leads to a different arrangement of controls between the pilot & FO seats. i.e. [PFD] [MFD]---[MFD][PFD]. If the controls were arranged the same on each side [PFD] [MFD]--[PFD] [MFD], they would no longer be symmetric. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Nov 11, 2015 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan I think you are misunderstanding my statement. I consider a symmetry around the vertical axis to be the same "arrangement". $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2015 at 17:54

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