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Round Dial vs. Glass Cockpit: Which is Better?

glass cockpit vs original cockpit

April 8, 2020

Round dials in a cockpit, also called analog gauges, have been standard in aircraft since the early days of aviation. Glass cockpits, or electronic flight instrument systems, began appearing in commercial aircraft in the late 1990s, and by 2003 they were starting to appear in general aviation airplanes.

Most general aviation aircraft can be ordered with glass cockpits, and older aircraft can be retrofitted to take advantage of the new technology.

Which is best? We'll take a look at the differences between a glass cockpit and an analog cockpit.

Glass Cockpit vs. Analog Cockpit

In a round dial cockpit, the six-pack of gauges — attitude, airspeed indicator, altimeter, turn coordinator, heading indicator and vertical speed indicator — are the core flight instruments. Navigation is managed via enroute charts.

In a glass cockpit, the main flight instruments are consolidated into a digital primary flight display (PFD). While some of the instruments will look familiar, others, such as the airspeed indicator and altimeter, are transformed from dials into digital tape displays. A second multifunction display (MFD) features a moving map and other information, such as weather (if the aircraft is so equipped).

Here are some differences between the two types of cockpit systems:

 Glass CockpitOriginal Cockpit
Ease of Use

Information displayed on one screen

No need to reset headings

Training required to understand all the functions and controls

Controls are not standardized across manufacturers

Pilot must scan six instruments

Heading indicator needs to be reset every 15 mins depending on type

Instruments are universal across aircraft types

More mechanical parts


Proven reliability

Dependent on electrical power and software stability

Requires backup instruments

Instruments require regular maintenance and overhaul

Can fail due to vacuum or electrical failures

Instruments can function during loss of electrical power


Displays can be custom configured

Engine performance displays can be integrated to reduce pilot workload

Each instrument performs a single function


In case of PFD failure, functions can be transferred to the MFD

Glass cockpits often have backup attitude, airspeed and altimeter instruments

Aircraft with dual ADC and AHRS have full redundancy

Pilots must know failure modes and resolutions for each instrument

Backups must use independent vacuum/static/electrical systems


Doesn't suffer from parallax view from the right seat

Colors on panel make it easier to distinguish important information

Round dials can be difficult to read from the right seat due to distance and parallax

Gauges can provide quick updates without focusing on exact numbers


Visual and aural annunciations and warnings are standard for airspeed, altitude and others

You can set bugs on the altimeter and heading indicators for reminders


ADS-B and XM weather provide forecasts, radar reports, etc.

Radar capability requires additional systems and hardware


Bluetooth connectivity for uploading flight plans, cockpit communication and entertainment

Analog instruments don't connect to Bluetooth or other technology

Traffic Avoidance

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADB-S) traffic awareness helps prevent incidents

Additional hardware required for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADB-S) functionality


Higher initial cost, lower ongoing maintenance

Lower initial cost, regular maintenance and overhauls required

Contact Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics

Analog gauges have served aircraft well for decades and will do so for years to come. But the power, reliability and flexibility of glass cockpits make them an easy choice for most aircraft today. If you're looking for reduced pilot workload and better performance on information displayed, it may be time to make the switch to a glass cockpit.

You can replace some individual instruments with a digital counterpart. For more information on analog and digital instruments, contact Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics. Mid-Continent provides superior instruments, avionics and power solutions to the global aerospace industry. Our expertise transcends five decades of manufacturing safe and certified products through the deployment of innovative technologies and the development of sophisticated, clean-sheet designs. Contact us today.