Wings Magazine

Bring common sense to 406 ELT issue

The last chance to bring common sense to the ELT issue, and save our sector of aviation some $100 million, is now in place.

August 19, 2008  By Kevin Psutka

The last chance to bring common sense to the ELT issue,
and save our
sector of aviation some $100 million, is
now in place. It is up to each
and every member to help
effect change by responding by October 23, to
the public consultation phase of the regulation enactment process.

Below you will find details of COPA’s response to the
 Canada Gazette
release. The complete response,
including a letter to Transport Canada
and attached
Word document containing the Gazette wording
against statements made by Transport
Canada can be found on our website

For the official version of the Gazette, go to English

Or French
/html/regle2-f.html .


Please study these documents and then put into your own words why you
do not support this regulation. Send your response to the Transport
Canada contact contained in the Gazette and I also encourage you to
copy your Member of Parliament. You can find out how to reach them at
/PostalCode.asp .

The history of this issue can be found at

and the key document is COPA’s letter of dissent
/kp08011.doc .

COPA’s extensive position is well known to Transport
Canada. The focus
of COPA’s response to the Gazette
is to address the benefit-cost
justification (referred to
as the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement).

For those readers who may be wondering about when
you will have to
equip, should this amendment
proceed, you will not find a transition
period in the
Gazette because Transport will only release the

transition period as an exemption to the regulation
and they can only
do this after the regulation is in place.

Anything can happen, but current indications are that owners will have
to equip with a 406 ELT (broadcasts on 406 MHz and 121.5 MHz and
capable of automatic activation) within two years, with some having to
convert as early as Feb. 1, 2009.

COPA is not opposed to 406 ELTs but we are opposed to mandating them.
When they work, they provide a good means of alerting and locating.
However, there are two issues with ELTs. They fail more often than they
function as intended.

The recent accident of a Grumman Goose in B.C. where the accident was
located relatively quickly because of cell phone is an excellent
example of the failure of ELTs. At the time of writing this article we
could not find out what type of ELT was installed but assuming that it
was either a C91a (updated 121.5 ELT) or C126 (406/121.5 ELT), whose
specifications for crash resistance are identical, it is a tragic but
excellent example that effectively mandating 406 ELTs will not
significantly improve, if at all, our prospects of being found.

It took a very long time to locate the Grumman Goose accident site
because there was neither an indication of the location nor a trail
leading to the last known position and even DND admitted to the media
that had there not been a cell phone involved, the search would have
lasted many days.

A second issue with mandating new ELTs is that for many aircraft, the
new ELTs are overkill, especially when the installed cost is on average
approximately $4,000 according to our research of recent installations
that vary from about $2,000 to $9,000.

The $2,000 figure is for aircraft that already have the provisions in
place to accept the new ELTs with their more stringent installation
requirements. However, the majority of aircraft contain the older
C91-compliant ELTs (if you have no cockpit switch for the ELT, it is a

For many of these aircraft, significant modifications may be required and this will drive up your cost.

Many aircraft never fly in sparsely settled areas of the country and
therefore should not be required to equip with this expensive
technology. There are several more affordable options for these
situations that will provide adequate notification and location.
However, the wording chosen by Transport Canada prevents any of these
alternatives from being acceptable, thereby mandating 406 ELTs.

COPA proposed a compromise that would meet the needs of the Search and
Rescue community and address our concerns. We proposed that the
requirement remain to have an ELT but that for those who choose not to
replace their existing ELT, they should have an alternative means of
contacting a rescue coordination centre. TC partially listened by
providing a regulation that permits alternatives but the wording chosen
by TC prohibits all current alternatives from being acceptable.

So, effectively TC is mandating the new ELTs for our sector of aviation.

The following are some of COPA’s Comments on the Gazette Announcement.
Transport Canada claims that 406 is much better than the predecessor
ELTs however they ignore significant limitations that may even offset
its benefits.

For example, the new ELTs take up to one minute to send the first
signal; a very long time in an accident sequence. Furthermore, COPA has
recently learned from a SAR expert that the GEOSAR geostationary
satellites that receive the 406 alerting signal have limitations in
latitude (unreliable above 70N) and mountainous terrain such that for
40 per cent of Canada the ability to receive the 406 signal is

Transport Canada places a great deal of emphasis on the improvement
that the transmission of ownership information in the alert signal
brings to reducing the resolution of false alerts. First of all, the
number of false alerts will most likely not appreciably decrease
because the same reasons for them will continue.

Transport Canada hopes that false alerts will be resolved sooner
because the first reaction will be to contact the owner. However, if no
one is available at the contact number, SAR will have no choice but to
initiate a search. Therefore, it is highly doubtful if the move to 406
will realize such dramatic improvement as Transport Canada assumes.

Transport Canada claims that the Canadian emergency detection situation
is unique in the world. Canada is not unique and therefore this should
not be used as justification for proceeding out of step with other
similar countries.

The United States has similar large areas that are sparely settled,
subject to weather extremes and have infrequent over-flying air
traffic. Most notable are areas of the high plains of the desert
southwest, where Steve Fossett disappeared in a small aircraft and was
never found after extensive searching, and Alaska, with its very rugged
terrain and weather extremes.
Despite extensive aviation activity in Alaska and a very challenging
SAR region in Alaska, which also has very extensive aviation activity,
the U.S. has indicated that it has no intention of changing its current
ELT regulation, leaving it up to each owner to decide what is best for
their operation and location.

This is a reasonable way to go. Australia, a country with vast areas of
harsh conditions and a large general aviation population, only requires
a PLB.

Transport Canada places considerable emphasis on automatic activation
as a key requirement. Dependence on a technology in which the device
has to survive the crash in order to do its job has resulted in a high
failure rate, thereby putting lives in jeopardy.

The recent accident of a Grumman Goose in B.C., where a cell phone was
instrumental to the rescue, is a case in point. The passengers in the
rear of the aircraft survived. This is where the ELT would be located.
It should have sent a signal but none was received.

The new ELTs also must survive the crash and meet the same crash
resistance requirements as their predecessors, so it can be expected
that the high failure rate will continue. And the limitation of the
GEOSAR satellites mentioned in an earlier comment may actually increase
search time over the current system.

Transport Canada claims that it has to effectively mandate 406 in order
to meet international commitments. This is not true. The ICAO
requirements for 406 ELTs are for international operations.

ELTs are only recommended for domestic operations, so Canada is able to
choose another route for domestic operations without violating its
international obligations.
It is misleading to imply that Canada would not be meeting its
international commitments should they choose to adopt another solution
for domestic operations. Transport Canada has chosen, at great expense
to our sector of aviation, to be in excess of ICAO requirements with no
firm justification for this position.

Transport Canada developed a benefit-cost table to demonstrate that the
net benefit in terms of the value of lives saved and the cost to equip
is positive. This calculation significantly understates the costs.

They estimate that the total cost to equip for private aviation will be
$39 million. Transport Canada estimates that the average cost per
installation is $2,167 for private aircraft. Invoices received to date
by COPA indicate for private aircraft that installed costs range from
$2,000 for a simple replacement of a C91a ELT to $9,000 for one
incorporating a GPS interface to an aircraft-installed GPS.

Since the majority of current installations are C91, it will cost more
to install a 406 MHz ELT in most aircraft because of the additional
installation requirements. Therefore, the cost to private aviation is
more realistically in the range from $60 million to $162 million, with
an average of about $100 million.

Even if we assume that the majority of owners will go for the so-called
low cost ELTs, the average cost for the fleet will be well in excess of
the stated $39 million. The cost is grossly understated by Transport
Canada and therefore the cost-benefit statement is misleading.

The benefit-cost table does not include the negative affect of lives
lost because of the frequent failure of ELTs to automatically activate
and get a signal up to satellites. The table only reflects the positive
estimate of lives saved by ELTs.

The benefit-cost table does not include the significant loss to our
economy from foreign aircraft, in particular U.S. aircraft that will be
prohibited from entering our airspace if they do not equip with 406.
Although this is difficult to quantify, there will be a significant
impact on the net benefit calculation.

The assumption, based on Transportation Safety Board (TSB) reports,
that 406 MHz ELTs will perform better is not based on any facts. Since
TSB does not report on ELT performance for all accidents, and they fail
to differentiate between C91 and C91a, there is no way to determine
that 406 MHz ELTs will in fact perform any better than their

In addition to the quantified benefits, based on estimates rather than
facts, Transport Canada made several statements about other benefits:

“Rapid confirmation of a distress situation” – As mentioned earlier,
GEOSAR satellite performance is degraded at latitudes above 70 north
and mountainous terrain. Forty per cent of Canada is either above 70
North or mountainous. Therefore, in many crashes where the ELT antenna
is less than ideally positioned, the likelihood of detection is lower
and may even be less than the older generation satellites.

“Measured relief response” – While it is true that 406 MHz ELTs, when
they survive a crash, can provide an indication of the maximum number
of persons involved because of the ELT being matched to a particular
aircraft, ELTs cannot provide any indication of level of distress.
Consequently, SAR will have to commit to a full response in every
situation. Several alternative devices that are not permitted by this
regulation have features that can indicate levels of distress and hence
can provide a better “measured response” than ELTs. These devices can
also be matched to a particular aircraft, thereby providing the same
and more features than an ELT.

“Improved crash location accuracy on initial transmission” – The
majority of private aircraft will likely equip with the least costly
ELT; one that does not include the capability to interface with a GPS.
Basic 406 MHz ELTs rely on the same outdated Doppler location technique
as their predecessors for establishing location. Given the state of the
satellite constellation, it can take 30 minutes or longer to process a
406 MHz signal. The initial transmission provides an alert only and it
will take time to determine location because of dependence on the
outdated Doppler technique.

“A greater proportion of 406 MHz ELTs will survive crash forces than
first generation 121.5 MHz ELTs” – There is no proof of this statement.
The same issues remain. ELTs fail to automatically activate because
antennas break off, wreckage is inverted or sinks or the ELT is
destroyed on impact or consumed by fire. A more robust specification
will not resolve these failure causes. In addition, a severe limitation
of 406 MHz ELTs is that it takes up to one minute to generate its first
alert to the satellites, which is a very long time during a crash
sequence. In crashes where the ELT will be affected very quickly in the
crash sequence, there will be no satellite alert.
“Forty-folder decrease in false alerts” – This assumes that the contact
person is available. Otherwise, SAR will have no choice but to initiate
a search.

“Reduced SAR personnel exposure to risks” – It is logical to assume
that there will be a degree of non-compliance, in particular from
foreign owners who will either ignore or be ignorant of the
requirement. This will most likely balance out the assumed benefit or
actually put more SAR personnel at risk.

In a statement concerning consultation, Transport Canada says that the
Canadian Aviation Regulations Advisory Committee (CARAC), on which COPA
participates with other industry stakeholders, “recommended these
proposed amendments during their meeting of December 2003.” This is a
false statement.

The Committee did agree on an amendment that would not mandate 406 MHz
ELTs in Canadian domestic airspace. That amendment, which in no way
resembles the amendments in the Gazette, was subsequently withdrawn
after senior Transport Canada officials rejected it.
The committee subsequently developed amendments at their November 2007
meeting but these were unilaterally amended in significant ways by
senior management and not consulted.
Upon seeing the statement in the Gazette, I contacted Transport Canada
and they confirmed that my recollection of the facts is correct. They
say that their error will be corrected when the regulation becomes law.
This error illustrates how one-sided and misleading the Gazette is in
selling the public on the government’s preferred solution.

Transport Canada claims that “Stakeholders support this proposal with
the exception of COPA”. Since the senior management’s unilateral
amendment has not been consulted within the CARAC process, Transport
Canada has no idea whether or not other stakeholders support this
It is unfair and misleading to characterize COPA as being the only
organization opposed to this amendment. Others who were not extensively
involved or followed the developments subsequent to the CARAC Committee
meeting may be opposed to these developments.
For those members of COPA who are also members of other organizations,
you may wish to ask your leaders where they stand on this issue.

Regarding COPA’s opposition, Transport Canada over-simplified the
reasons for our opposition in an attempt to downplay it. COPA opposed
these proposed amendments for many more reasons, as detailed in our
letter of dissent filed in January

It is unfair and misleading to downplay our extensive and reasoned opposition with such a simple statement.

Alternate means of emergency location must provide immediate
notification. No device, including 406 MHz ELTs, is capable of
immediate notification. Therefore, alternate devices and services are
being held to a higher standard than ELTs, and effectively 406 ELTs are
being mandated.

Alternate means must also allow the aircraft to be located within 2.7
nm. Several alternate means provide much better accuracy than basic 406
ELTs. However, the only way they could qualify would be if they
broadcast continuously, which is cost prohibitive for both private and
commercial operators.

The Gazette comment period until October 23, is our last chance to stop
this regulation. Please take the time to lend your perspective.


Stories continue below