Glass cockpits, Garmin G5000

Two Decades of Innovation

Here’s a look at some of the biggest advances in business aircraft design and technology over the past 20 years.

Dramatic advances in avionics, flight controls, communications equipment, cabin amenities, propellers, rotors, fuel, engines, and safety systems have contributed to the growing popularity of business aircraft over the 20 years since Business Jet Traveler debuted. Here’s a look at some key innovations and what they mean to you. 


Safety Management Systems (SMS) have been mandatory for the airlines since 2015 and are credited as a contributor to an overall low accident rate. The FAA is in the process of mandating them for air operations under Part 135, which governs small commuter airlines, business aircraft, and on-demand charter operations, air ambulances, and air tour flights for both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Meanwhile, a handful of these operators have already adopted voluntary, FAA-approved SMS programs. It also is likely that in the future aircraft insurers will require SMS programs as a condition of underwriting for not only Part 135 operations but also those conducted under Part 91K, which governs the conduct of some fractional ownership programs. 


Glass cockpits: Cockpit display screens in place of individual gauges are now common in business aircraft, and the technology has been greatly refined over the last two decades with touchscreen integrated glass display systems such as Collins Pro Line Fusion, Garmin G5000, and Honeywell Anthem. These screens combine information about critical aircraft performance, situational awareness, and navigation for pilots in a more recognizable and faster way, reducing workload and stress. The displays also have a lower failure rate, require less maintenance, and weigh less than traditional electromechanical and pressure gauges. The technology is now standard equipment for new business aircraft from virtually every avionics manufacturer and is available as retrofits for legacy models. 

Electronic flight bags and apps

Electronic flight bags and apps: Beginning in 2003, laptops and tablet computers have made the days of pilots lugging big map cases into the cockpit a thing of the past. Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) contain programs and data that enable pilots to safely and quickly access navigational charts and plan routes; reference aircraft flight manuals and other critical documents; complete checklists; compute aircraft weight, balance, and performance; display real-time weather; and even interface with other cockpit systems such as the flight management system. A variety of apps further enhance the utility of EFBs. Today’s pilot would no more be without his EFB than you would be without a cell phone. 

Synthetic/enhanced/augmented/combined vision systems: Advances in computerized mapping, terrain, and obstacle databases—overlapped with global- positioning-system and inertial-navigation-system data and images from nose-mounted infrared, multi-sensor cameras—are enabling more aircraft operations in adverse weather, with some allowing landings with cloud ceilings as low as zero feet with extremely low visibility. This technology began finding its way onto business jets as early as 2007 and can be added to a variety of glass cockpit avionics systems. 

Head-up display (HUD) with combined vision

Head-up displays (HUD): A HUD is typically a glass visor that flips down between the pilot’s eyes and the windshield. First developed for the military, it displays critical flight data and imagery, including runways and runway lighting, so the pilot needn’t shift attention from the instrument panel to the windshield or vice versa when landing or taking off in low-visibility conditions. Initially very expensive, this technology has been finding its way onto smaller and smaller business aircraft and is even now available for single-engine, piston-powered airplanes. New head-wearable models make this technology easily adaptable for virtually any aircraft. It was first offered as standard equipment on a business jet on the Gulfstream G550 in 2003.

Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast: ADS-B has been required on most aircraft operating within the U.S. since 2020. An ADS-B-enabled aircraft uses satellite navigation such as GPS to determine its position, altitude, heading, and speed and then broadcasts it, enabling tracking in real-time without the use of surveillance radar. This is invaluable for air traffic control in areas that have poor or no radar coverage. However, it also allows any snoop with a cell phone, via various apps, to track just about any airplane worldwide. Aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out can only transmit this data, but those with ADS-B In can also receive it, providing pilots with situational awareness of all the traffic around them. 

Satellite aircraft tracking: Satellite-based aircraft tracking services, originally developed for helicopter operators, are now on more business aircraft of all kinds. Over the years, they’ve added voice, text, and aircraft diagnostics, features that are particularly useful for operations in remote areas and offshore. Within the last decade, the services have matured to include web-based tools that display aircraft engine and airframe subsystem status, monitoring any caution and warning they generate along with the geospatial movements of the aircraft, and then automatically sending this information in real-time to appropriate ground personnel.  


Autoland: Avionics manufacturer Garmin has developed a system that allows the pilot or any passenger to push a button that will land the aircraft at the closest suitable airport, stop it on the runway, and shut down the engine if the pilot becomes incapacitated. Certified in 2020 and currently available for select turboprops and light jets under a variety of names, Autoland manages speed, altitude, flight-control configuration, landing gear, and navigation, and even automatically makes the appropriate transponder settings and radio broadcasts to enable a safe touchdown.

Health usage and monitoring systems: HUMS use sensors to monitor key aircraft system parameters and data to assure continued safe operation of critical components and flag indicators that could suggest unusual wear or a potential failure. Originally developed for the military, these systems began finding their way onto business jets and civil helicopters over the last 15 years. Newer systems transmit this data in real-time (older ones could have data downloaded after each landing) to the aircraft manufacturers’ and owners’ operations centers. Armed with this information, HUMS can order parts and schedule maintenance quickly—often when you’re still in the air—before a small problem becomes a big one and grounds the aircraft for an extended period. The systems save money and time, increase reliability, and can even save lives. 

Autothrottle, TBM 940


Autothrottles: This is another technology that is progressively scaling down to smaller aircraft. Pilots once had to make sometimes constant power-setting adjustments based on winds, altitude, outside air temperature, barometric pressure, and phase of flight. Autothrottles put this all in the hands of a computer, reducing pilot workload, eliminating the need to constantly adjust throttles while monitoring airspace and aircraft speed restrictions, improving fuel economy, and yielding a smoother ride. The pilot merely selects the phase of flight and the system does the rest—sort of like adaptive cruise control in your car, only better. While the technology has been on airliners for more than 50 years and large business jets for almost as long, it became available for light jets—often as a retrofit—only within the last decade and for turboprops in 2017. 

Fly-by-wire flight controls: Originally developed for fighter jets, fly-by-wire (FBW) is another technology scaling downward on the aircraft size scale. For bizjets, it first found its way onto the Dassault Falcon 7X, which was certified in 2007, but it is now on a variety of business aircraft, the new Bell 525 helicopter, and even some electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) models. FBW replaces mechanical linkages between the cockpit and the aircraft’s control surfaces, such as the rudder and ailerons, with pilot inputs fed into a triple-redundant computer and then sent to electronic actuators that control these aircraft surfaces. The technology prevents pilots from flying outside an approved flight envelope, all but eliminating loss-of-control accidents. In an emergency, the flight computer can think faster than the pilot, making the situation easier to deal with. Guided by the computer, flight control inputs are also smoother and more precise, making for a more comfortable ride. 

Aviation Partners (API) winglets


Aviation Partners (API) winglets: API’s team of former Boeing and Lockheed engineers developed a series of winglets for airliners and business aircraft that can reduce fuel consumption by 4 to 10 percent, increase range, cut climb times, and improve runway performance. First offered as retrofits over the last 20 years for business jets including Falcons, Gulfstreams, and Hawkers, these winglets are now standard equipment on a variety of new business aircraft. 

Tamarack Aerospace Smartwing active winglets: Tamarack’s design, which was certified in 2016, differs from API’s in that its winglet system features an “active” component, relying on computerized load sensors that automatically mitigate wing bending during turbulence and high-load events without the need to add more wing structure. Installed on several models of light jets and being developed for business and commercial turboprops, the system can increase range by up to 25 percent. 

Honda over-the-wing engine mount (OTWEM): A unique design for the HondaJet, first certified in 2015, is its patented over-the-wing engine mounting. By locating the engines atop the wings as opposed to bolting them onto the back of the aircraft—as on most business jets—Honda eliminates the need for a fuselage to be tapered toward the aft of the aircraft to allow for engine support structure that runs inside the aircraft. This provides for a constant-ruled fuselage that yields up to 20 percent more cabin space than in comparable light business jets. 

Communications CSI satelite


Better connectivity: Airborne satellite communications and internet access have improved significantly over the last 20 years in terms of cost, hardware miniaturization, speed, reliability, and range. The advances have been fueled in part by the refinement of Ka and Ku band technology, the deployment of new global networks of low-earth-orbit satellites, and the rollout of high-speed air-to-ground systems that can be accessed by aircraft. 

Lower cabin altitudes: For decades, “cabin altitude” was stuck at about 8,000 feet in most bizjets, producing the same lovely jetlag you got on the airlines. Granted, the 1970s Learjet 35 light jet would give you a sea-level cabin up to 25,700 feet, but for that luxury you got a fuel burn that conjured up what might happen if you handed an overheated child a Big Gulp. Today, it’s a different story. Uber-lux barges from Gulfstream, such as the G700 that likely will be certified later this year, have a maximum cabin altitude under 3,000 feet while cruising at 41,000 feet. Even relatively small airplanes—such as Embraer’s midsize Praetor line, which was certified in 2019—offer cabin altitudes below 6,000 feet.  

Beechcraft King Air window

Electrochromatic window shades: These windows use an electrical charge to regulate clarity—from clear to opaque to nearly blacked out. The beauty of this technology is that it allows passengers at their seats and flight crews from a control panel or app to adjust shading, making it easier to cool cabins sitting on hot ramps. These windows have become popular on business aircraft over the last 15 years, including for King Air 350 series turboprops beginning in 2010.

Transducers: Small, lightweight transducers mounted on the back of aircraft cabin interior panels, combined with custom-tuned advanced signal-processing technology, produce vibrations that turn the cabin into an immersive sound chamber. This is accomplished without the need for often high-maintenance traditional components such as loudspeakers, and it eliminates the need to chop speaker holes into cabin sidewalls and overhead panels. The Bombardier Challenger 300 was the first serial-production business jet to incorporate this technology, via the Lufthansa nice in-flight entertainment system, in 2004. 

H160 Blue Edge


Quiet propellers: Over the last 15 years, several manufacturers have developed composite, shaped, and swept propellers for turboprop aircraft that produce more thrust with less power. This allows them to turn slower and therefore produce less noise inside and outside the cabin and generate less vibration. They also deliver better takeoff, climb, and cruise performance. Some designs, such as MT’s Quiet Fan, integrate small winglets into the propeller blades, while Hartzell’s five-bladed composite propeller can run at 10 percent reduced rpms and reduce takeoff distances in the process. 

“Blue Edge” rotor blades: The new “Blue Edge” main rotor blades on the Airbus H160 helicopter that was certified earlier this year feature a double sweep design. The blades have tips with a bend that resembles the business end of a hockey stick. With traditional designs, when rotor blades spin, the tips emit vortices. Bending the tips disrupts the “blade vortex interaction” from one blade to the next, delivering a smooth ride and reducing noise by as much as 5 dB, or 50 percent, compared with legacy helicopters. 

Rotorcraft icing protection: Rotorcraft are more susceptible to icing than fixed-wing aircraft as they operate at the lower altitudes where icing is more likely to form. Ice on engine inlets and rotor blades not only can cause loss of lift but also engine failure and severe vibration that, left unchecked, can have catastrophic consequences. It also prevents helicopters from accomplishing critical medevac and search-and-rescue missions. Leonardo was the first manufacturer to introduce rotorblade icing protection, in 2010, on intermediate and super-medium-class helicopters used for these types of missions. The system features automatic ice detectors and activation and employs improved circulation of hot air from the engine, vents, windshields, and main and tail rotor blades. Leonardo is also developing a system for tiltrotors that uses friction to remove ice on leading-edge surfaces. 

Rolls-Royce Pearl engine

Engines: Turboprop and turbofan jet engines for business aircraft of all sizes have made great strides over the last two decades in terms of improved efficiency and lower emissions in models including the GE Honda HF120, Pratt & Whitney PW800, Honeywell HTF7500, GE Passport, and Rolls-Royce Pearl. These new engines reduce fuel burns by up to 20 percent compared with legacy technology and feature innovative designs, materials, and production techniques. The efficiency gains come largely in the form of engines that deliver more thrust—and therefore faster times to climb and overall ranges—with nearly the same amount of fuel. Unlike next-generation engines developed for airliners, which can gain efficiency by increasing fan size, new bizjet engines rely on operating at higher temperatures and greater thermal efficiency with redesigned low-pressure turbines, exhaust nozzles, and shaped fan blades made together in a single forging called a blisk to save weight and reduce maintenance. 

Sustainable aviation fuel: SAF development began 13 years ago in Europe as an environmentally friendly, drop-in solution in jet fuel, much like ethanol is in gasoline. Like alcohol, SAF can be made from almost anything—used cooking oils, biostocks, and waste from forest floors, for example. Most of today’s jet engines can run on 100 percent SAF, although due to the nascent nature of refining capacity, that eventuality is decades away. Right now, most commercially available SAF is up to a 30 percent blend. Thanks to various government credits and incentives recently enacted worldwide, the price of SAF is becoming more comparable to that of dirtier jet-A kerosene. Still, when it comes to reducing jet emissions it will be some time before SAF produces gains that are larger than those gleaned from continued improvement of engine technology. Overall, aviation accounts for just 2.5 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. 


Very light jets: The mid-1990s birthed the very light jet investment pyre—a new generation of small, single-pilot jet aircraft weighing less than 10,000 pounds. There was no shortage of dreamers willing to join the fray: Comp Air, Diamond, Eclipse Aviation, Epic Air, Flaris, Maverick, Piper, Sport Jet, and Stratos among them. Most of these programs either never got to market or, once certified, did a dirt nap (such as Eclipse’s $1 billion bankruptcy in 2008 after producing 260 aircraft), but they did drive innovation in terms of avionics and engine development. An exception to the class’s attrition is Cirrus’s SF50 Vision Jet, a slow, single-engine jet that was certified in 2015 and remains wildly popular with owner pilots. From 2016 through the first quarter of 2023, Cirrus delivered nearly 400 of them.  

Fast large-cabin, ultra-long-range jets: The big three large-cabin bizjet manufacturers—Bombardier, Dassault, and Gulfstream—have all jumped into the deeper end of this pool with new offerings with exterior dimensions and maximum weights that more closely resemble a Boeing 727 airliner, but with maximum speeds approaching supersonic—up to Mach 0.925—and very long legs. New models such as the Bombardier Global 8000, Gulfstream 800, and Dassault Falcon 10X in some cases will have ranges of up to 8,000 nautical miles. The in-production Bombardier Global 7500, certified in 2018, already comes close at 7,700 nautical miles. But is 16-plus hours too long for a single business jet flight? We’re about to find out. 

Mark Huber, who has reviewed new and used aircraft models for BJT since 2005, has flown more than 50 models.

This article has been updated to correct information about Safety Management Systems.—Ed.