There has been a lot of press coverage lately regarding the status of Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) in Canada. The disappearance of Steve Fossett in the U.S. has raised the profile and coincidental with his disappearance the NTSB in the U.S. has released an accident report in which they recommend that ELTs transmitting on 406 MHz be mandated for all aircraft in the U.S.
So, here is a status report for Canada. A major change in detecting downed aircraft will occur in 2009 when satellite monitoring of 121.5 ELTs will cease. This is a non-negotiable date because the satellite constellation is degrading.
Decisions were made in the 1990s at the international level to replace 121.5 satellite monitoring with 406 MHz for several reasons including a cleaner frequency for detection. A new specification (TSO 126) for the ELTs was developed, incorporating several enhancements such as a more powerful signal and the capability to send up digital identification and GPS location information.
There has been an ongoing debate regarding the cost and benefit of 406 ELTs and several years of meetings involving government, rescue agencies and the industry, including COPA, to discuss alternatives.
This effort culminated in the past year in a Risk Assessment process in which the advantages and disadvantages of several alternatives were explored. The Risk Assessment, which in essence is aligned with COPA’s goals, has been completed and the recommendations have been forwarded to senior levels of the government to provide guidance for the amendment of the existing regulation 605.38.
COPA has been pushing for a performance-based regulation that gives aircraft owners some options. Following on a COPA Board resolution several years ago opposing mandated equipage, COPA President Kevin Psutka has advocated for a compromise solution that maximizes compliance and minimizes cost. The 406 MHz ELT is an acceptable option and that some form of automated activation should remain in the regulation. This means that if you choose to equip with a 406 ELT, this is all you need to do.
If you choose not to equip or are unable to do so because of mounting requirements, for example, you should be permitted to retain the current 121.5 ELT but also be required to have some other method of signalling that you are in distress.
There are a wide variety of devices or procedures that can fulfill this requirement, including personal locator beacons (PLBs), satellite phones, positive radar contact and tracking services.
And there are several technologies in development such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast that can fill this function. Until the draft revised regulation is available for debate and processing through the Transport Canada bureaucracy, there is little firm advice COPA can provide in case you are considering replacing an ELT or equipping a new aircraft. There are, however, some realities given the short time remaining until 121.5 satellite monitoring is turned off. There will have to be a transition period to allow owners to buy and install devices.
In the meantime, it will be more important than ever to file and follow a flight plan, request flight following with ATC and tell someone where you are going. Keep an eye on this paper for further updates and options for meeting the revised regulation as it develops.