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Rob Seaman’s article on ELTs

I wish to write you regarding an article written by Rob Seaman on ELTs, which appeared in the July/August issue of WINGS.


August 19, 2008
By Frank Hofmann Eastern Vice Chair COPA

I wish to write you regarding an article written by Rob Seaman on ELTs, which appeared in the July/August issue of WINGS.

My response is prompted by Mr. Seaman‚s unquestioning use of “facts‚” as they have been presented by the proponents of the 406 ELT, and by his presumption of aircraft owners‚ ability to pay for any legislated equipment, required for particular types of flying or not, or for other geographical areas where such equipment may be redundant. The proponents of the 406 include ELT manufacturers; regulators who are insisting on the acquisition of this one system (which has been legislated primarily because it has been strongly lobbied); and Search and Rescue organizations because they are fed up with false alarms generated primarily by maritime users of the ELTs. Whether the new 406 system will eliminate false alerts remains to be proven. Why should aircraft owners carry the false alert cost burden generated largely by another sector, boating?

I wish to point out that ARTEX themselves, a major manufacturer of ELTs, admitted in the May 2007 issue of AVIONICS NEWS, page 31, that the 121.5 ELTs, of which they sold many tens of thousands, „activate properly in only 12% of crashes‰.  Does your writer, Mr. Seaman, know why 88% failed to work?  How does Mr. Seaman know if the much more costly 406 versions will have a better activation rate?  Mr. Seaman needs to address these issues if he and your magazine are to retain their credibility concerning the mandated use of 406 ELTs. Your readers need to know why he thinks that we aircraft owners, who are having to stake our lives on a questionable technology, are wrong to demand alternatives, or why he thinks we are wrong at least to demand that a plan be put into place to determine if the Œnew‚ technology yields a far better activation rate before we are again burdened with the cost of a system which may be equally poor. Why did the old technology fail so often? How will we know that the new system will solve the previous problem of non-activation? No-one is daring to collect relevant statistics. Until a serious effort is made to address the fundamental deficiencies of the ELTs that are currently available ˆ and they are deficient by any measure, considering statistics such as 88% failure rates, no serious efforts will be made to find alternatives with superior capabilities, leaving aircraft owners in a situation which can only be defined as unacceptable.

On an equally important note: by failing to address the important issue of cost to aircraft owners of  mandated  equipment, Mr. Seaman implies that all aircraft owners have the ability to pay whatever costs are imposed on them, imposed  even if a realistic cost-benefit analysis from the owner‚s point of view has been carried out. One‚s own financial situation is a personal matter ˆ as is one‚s religion, sexual preference, body weight, and the like.  No one should feel free to make assumptions concerning such personal matters pertaining to a certain portion of the population. To do so is both arrogant and prejudicial.  How does Mr. Seaman feel about having to install a $2000 piece of equipment, of unproven success rate ˆ in fact, of proven dismal success rate -, in his airplane?  He did not say. Thousands of aircraft owners would find Mr. Seaman‚s dismissal of the financial hardships presented by the imposition of requiring such an unproven  and potentially ineffective gadget offensive.

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Mr. Seaman seems to be under the illusion that most or all aircraft owners have, almost by definition, deep pockets. This happens to be far from the truth. Has Mr. Seaman ever considered that many owners barely manage to maintain their aircraft financially, and that, for such, another expense of $2000-$3000 for a questionable piece of equipment will be neither politically nor financially acceptable, particularly when the benefits of that expense are in serious doubt?

The situation is serious enough from both a safety and an economic standpoint that an organization, COPA, representing approximately 14000 aircraft owners — the very people who are having this cost thrust upon them — has over the past 5 year period been presenting to the regulators both strong and cogent arguments for acceptable and superior alternatives to the current ELTs.

It seems unacceptable and gratuitous to have anyone, writers included, look into aircraft owners‚ wallets and pronounce themselves on owners‚ ability to pay for unproven equipment for much the same reason that Canadians have asked our governments not to look into our bedrooms. I would hope that Mr. Seaman did not step into this forbidden domain for the purpose of stimulating magazine sales.

Frank Hofmann

Eastern Vice Chair, COPA

August 15, 2008