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Are 406 Mhz ELTs really the best solution?

While sitting in the FBO at Trois Rivieres waiting for thunderstorms to pass, I have been reading Rob Seaman's article in the July/August edition of Wings. He seems to have absorbed the Transport Canada kool-ade regarding 406 MHz ELTs very uncritically.


August 13, 2008
By Chris Hobbs

While sitting in the FBO at Trois Rivieres waiting for thunderstorms to
pass, I have been reading Rob Seaman's article in the July/August
edition of Wings. He seems to have absorbed the Transport Canada
kool-ade regarding 406 MHz ELTs very uncritically.

I am returning from a flying holiday in a Cessna 172 from Ottawa
Rockcliffe along the north shore of the St. Lawrence to Lourdes de
Blanc Sablon – an airport slightly beyond the end of the world – and
back. My family members and friends in Australia, Canada and the U.K.
were aware of my exact position (to within a few metres) every 10
minutes throughout the trip. Flight Services were not because they have
not supplied an e-mail address to receive messages from my SPOT
(http://international.findmespot.com/ ) messenger – they had to rely
instead on position reports by radio.

The 406 MHz ELT is simply a technological improvement on an antique
system: the concept of "send nothing until you crash and then possibly
transmit a signal if the ELT and antenna survive the crash."

We now have access to much better systems. The SPOT system is obviously
proprietary and Transport Canada could not rely on a foreign company
for search and rescue but the technology is really simple and reflects
someone thinking about the problem rather than simply updating the
technology. The SPOT transmits until you crash and then possibly
continues thereafter – much more logical than the ELT methodology!

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In the short term, I would feel a lot more comfortable if Flight
Services provided an e-mail address to which SPOT messages could be
sent. There would obviously be a lot of e-mails but they could all be
deleted unread after, say, 24 hours. If, however, I were to go missing
on my next trip to Lourdes de Blanc Sablon, I would feel more
comfortable if those e-mails could be opened and my flight of path
examined. Even if the device didn't survive the crash, the area to be
searched would be tiny.


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