8 novembre 2018 | Local, Aérospatial

Why do some planes in Canada lack potentially life-saving emergency beacons?

David Burke · CBC News

More than half of the 27,000 civil aircraft in Canada aren't equipped with a modern device that could save lives by allowing search and rescue crews to more easily find potential crash survivors, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.  

Modern emergency locator transmitters, or ELTs, emit radio distress calls that can be picked up by satellites, but many small, private and recreational aircraft use older technology that's of little use to rescuers if a plane goes down, because the signal is unlikely to be picked up. 

"There's no way to tell where it's coming from, no way to tell the identity of the source," said Steve Lett, head of the Cospas-Sarsat Secretariat, the international organization that runs the satellite-based search and rescue system.   

"It relies on the luck of having another aircraft possibly flying nearby and that aircraft having its receiver tuned to 121.5 MHz, and also that aircraft not assuming that it's some sort of a test."   

Search and rescue satellites no longer pick up the 121.5 MHz distress signal, which isn't a problem for large commercial airplanes most Canadians use to travel because they use up-to-date ELTs.

Those systems are designed to go off when a plane crashes, sending a signal to orbiting satellites that is relayed to a mission control centre. Local search and rescue crews are then advised where they can find the crash site. 

"Private aircraft, general aviation aircraft, they are not as closely supervised. They tend to crash much more frequently and yet governments ... the Canadian and U.S. governments included, continue to allow them to fly with only a 121.5 MHz ELT," said Lett, whose organization stopped monitoring the 121.5 MHz frequency in 2009.

The older distress signals weren't accurate, so Cospas-Sarsat began monitoring ELTs that emit a 406 MHz radio signal instead. Those signals are digital and capable of providing more accurate location information and even the identity of the aircraft.

But in Canada, it is not mandatory for planes to have a 406 MHz ELT.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada determined in 2016 there were approximately 27,000 aircraft registered in Canada that required an ELT, but only 10,086 equipped with a 406 MHz ELT. 

Full article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/emergency-locator-transmitters-search-and-rescue-aircraft-planes-1.4895600

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