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ELT update: nothing has changed, yet

By Kevin Psutka

 

It has been some time since my last update because nothing has changed, in terms of the requirements for equipping with a 406 ELT.

The draft regulation, which does very little to improve your prospects for being found in the event of an accident but which will result in about $100 million being spent to equip the fleet, has been locked down for two years in the Minister of Transport’s office where it has been waiting for final approval before being passed through the Gazette II process into law.

I recently met with our new Minister, Denis Lebel, to brief him on our issues, including the ELT issue. I had been informed prior to the meeting that he apparently considered my written submissions and had handed the matter back to the bureaucrats for further study. I used our meeting to reinforce my submissions and answer any direct questions he may have.

I should explain that the regulatory change process includes a period of consultation (for this matter it took more than 10 years) followed by internal government regulation amendment and approval processes and then formal publication of a draft amendment in Gazette I for a final public consultation.

The next step is to lock the amendment down within the government while they consider input from the Gazette I phase and then either make further amendments, hand it back to the bureaucrats for further work or release it into law. During this phase, members of the public, including COPA, are not entitled to know anything about the content of the regulation, whether it has been amended or not. So, at this point I have no idea if the regulation has been or will be changed from its flawed state when it was at Gazette I, where COPA provided extensive input to explain the flaws.

What I do know is, the Transport Canada bureaucrats intend to at least consult within the government, including meeting with the Department of National Defence. I made a strong representation to Minister Lebel and to a senior policy advisor to the Minister of National Defence that there have been several developments since the draft regulation was developed several years ago, that should be taken into consideration and discussed with the industry and COPA to determine a way forward.

For example, there are several examples of the new ELTs failing as I predicted. All of the reasons why ELTs fail continue because we are depending on an alerting concept in which the device has to survive the crash in order to start doing its job. Also, some of the most popular ELTs are failing the recertification tests due to reliance on outdated component technology.

There has also been significant developments in alternative technologies, including tracking devices like Spidertracks that incorporates an alerting feature not requiring action on the part of anyone on board and SPOT, whose Connect feature permits text messaging via Bluetooth from a smart phone to a satellite.

Furthermore, and perhaps most important, ICAO is both reconsidering its commitment to ELTs and developing a new specification for ELTs to improve their performance with a new constellation of monitoring satellites that will be in place by 2015.

COPA has offered a compromise solution for many years and it remains viable. In light of DND’s commitment to the COSPAS-SARSAT monitoring system, to be compatible with the U.S. who are not mandating 406 ELTs and to provide more time for ELTs to be developed, produced and delivered at an affordable price, the requirement to equip with an ELT should continue but non-commercial aircraft should be permitted to retain older ELTs and their pilots should be encouraged to equip with an alerting device (cell phone, sat phone, Personal Locator Beacon, tracking device, etc.) that is appropriate for the type of operation and area over which the aircraft will be flown.

This a similar approach to that taken when the survival equipment rule was changed from a prescriptive one to one that simply requires aircraft to be equipped for the area and environmental conditions over which the aircraft will be flown.

The main point that I left with Minister Lebel was this: in light of continuing deficiencies in the ELT concept, developments in alternatives that are leapfrogging ELTs, review at ICAO and a new ELT that is in the works, is now the right time to be mandating 406 ELTs?

I emphasized that the likelihood of compliance would be far greater, as is becoming apparent in the U.S., if aircraft owners are not forced to equip but instead are provided with information to help them make the appropriate choice for their situation.

COPA is not opposed to ELTs. There are situations where they still have a use but the government should not be taking a one-size-fits-all approach. For safety’s sake, common sense should prevail.

There is no indication at this point how long the matter will remain locked down or if Transport Canada will permit more discussion on this issue. I remain available should they decide to perform a thorough review. In the meantime, it is status quo.

There is no requirement to re-equip but you should take into consideration that there is no longer any satellite monitoring of the older ELTs. File and stick to flight plans, leave details of your trip with someone, carry another device to provide alerting in the event that you need it, or equip with 406.

Keep in mind that COPA has deals on purchasing SPOT or Spidertracks and a free COPA membership or extension to a membership if you buy a 406 ELT through Aircraft Spruce Canada. See our website: www.copanational.org for details.