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When large airliners approach an airport for a landing, a combination of radio signals and high-intensity lighting shows the pilot exactly where the runway is, even at night or in fog. But millions of people a year fly on smaller commercial planes, many private, that do not have such technology. The pilots of those craft must rely on less sophisticated instruments, along with their cockpit window view during landing, a situation that can be fatal in bad weather. In 2011 alone four such commercial jets crashed into terrain or an obstacle, killing 140 passengers and crew, according to avionics-maker Honeywell and aerospace research firm Ascend. The accidents are known as "controlled flight into terrain."

Landings could be safer if new navigation displays featuring nighttime infrared imaging and 3-D graphics that accurately portray an aircraft's surroundings become standard equipment on smaller commercial and private planes. In addition to the potential safety benefits, Gulfstream, Bombardier and other makers of small and midsize business jets are also learning that the same technology can save time and money by keeping flights on schedule even in the face of weather that would normally require runway circling or flight rerouting.

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