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February Deadline For Emergency Beacons Approaches 184

Posted by timothy
from the emergency-bacon-unaffected dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In two weeks, older emergency locator beacons will no longer be monitored by satellites. USA Today noticed that 85% of private aircraft in the US have not switched to the 406 MHz beacons. I thought I'd send up a flare about this. And this should not be relevant to the airplane which landed in the Hudson River today, as that was a commercial plane and its location was known by a number of bystanders, one of whom helped crash TwitPic."
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February Deadline For Emergency Beacons Approaches

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  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Friday January 16, 2009 @09:52AM (#26481091)

    I've re-checked and it's all there.

    Right between the emergency eggs and the emergency beer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2009 @09:56AM (#26481113)

    It isn't like the old ones will not useful. The CAP and the FAA will still listen for the 121.5 beacons. Just the satellites.

    If you are flying over really remote areas (northern Montana, etc), then you are silly not to have one of the new beacons. If you are flying within 100 miles of a major city, on nice days on the weekend, it is silly to buy the new ones, if your old one works.

    The new ones are about $1200 installed.

    I know, "airplanes are rich mans toys", but that isn't true. You can buy a taylorcraft for $15000, and ercoupes for under $20000. Most planes out there can be bought for under $50000.

    • by afidel (530433)
      Most of the 406 EPIRB unit's I'm seeing are in the $350-500 range, is their some reason they are twice as expensive for GA aircraft?
      • by horatio (127595)

        Twice as expensive for general aviation aircraft* as compared to what? Commercial a/c, or consumer-grade land-based devices?

        Nearly everything for aviation is more expensive than a land-bound counterpart. I think some of it is markup, but I think that more of it is the much, much lower tolerance for failure. (It is required by the CFRs that, for example, the engine oil is changed when the mfg says to change it, otherwise the a/c is no longer legal (airworthy) to be flown.) Equipment failure in flight can

        • by afidel (530433)
          Compared to marine units, they are rugged and waterproof. I doubt they are fire proof though (not sure how fireproof the GA ones are either).
    • by Hatta (162192)

      If you have $15000 to spend on a toy, you are a rich man.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Vellmont (569020)


        If you have $15000 to spend on a toy, you are a rich man.

        You really think so?

        Plenty of people spend A LOT more on second vacation homes, a boat, or even a sports car. Most of them aren't what anyone would consider "rich". It all depends on what you value. Some people just value being able to fly more than going up to a lake cabin.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MBGMorden (803437)

          Well I'd classify anybody with 2nd vacation home as rich, but yeah, $15,000 on an airplane doesn't make you rich.

          Particularly as due to the way the financing works on many of these things, people never really pay that much for them. A lot of the loans for aircraft are structured oddly. They'll set them up for 7 years. Over those 7 years you have a fairly low monthly payment. Mostly just interest with a little principle thrown in. Once the 7 years are up, you get hit with a huge bill for the remaining b

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by GooberToo (74388)

            Ya, people simply don't realize you can actually own a plane for less a month than what people often pay for a car; and way less than a used fishing boat.

            People forget owners of nice fishing boats are likely are better off than many plane owners.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          Yes, if you can afford second home you are rich.

        • Plenty of people spend A LOT more on second vacation homes, a boat, or even a sports car.

          Those are all toys. The parent's point remains valid. (Mind you, I'll declassify the boat if it is your home (eg. Quincey).)
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Shotgun (30919)

        $15K, over what time period?

        I will spend somewhere in that range building my Dyke Delta over a 7 year period. That comes out to just under $6/day. I know "poor" people that spend more than that in cigarettes. I know high-schoolers that spend MORE than that going to movies. There are a LOT of people reading this forum that could point out $15K of audio-visual and computer equipment that they've bought over just the last few years.

        $15K to spend on a permanent hobby in America is middle-class. Granted, by

      • by Reziac (43301) *

        Most of the people I know who own light aircraft have a cheap model -- used single-engine planes go for about the same as the concurrent cheapest new car on the market, and a plane's expected lifespan is about 10 times longer than the similarly-priced car. A lifespan of 40 to 70 years is not at all unusual.

        Most of the people I know who own light aircraft do so because they need it, not because it's a toy. Cropdusters make their living with their planes. A lot of ranchers use them to keep an eye on remote gr

        • by Hatta (162192)

          Most of the people I know who own light aircraft do so because they need it, not because it's a toy.

          Same here. Plenty of working class people own planes, but they are tools, not toys. If you own a plane, and it's not making you money, then you're either rich or financially irresponsible.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BarefootClown (267581)

        If you have $15000 to spend on a toy, you are a rich man.

        Two words: "bass boat."

    • by Tisha_AH (600987)

      Some of the problems with the old 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz beacons is that they only tranmitted the "wheep-wheep-wheep" signal and it was damned difficult to find an aircraft sitting in a hangar that had it's beacon accidentally activated.

      Having been on that "hunt" before (to find an accidentally activated beacon at a small, general aviation airport) it diverts a tremendous amount of resources to drive around and triangulate the transmitter. When the plane is sitting in a hangar or on a parking spot at an ai

    • I know, "airplanes are rich mans toys", but that isn't true. You can buy a taylorcraft for $15000, and ercoupes for under $20000. Most planes out there can be bought for under $50000.

      $15k for a toy is about as firmly in the category of "rich mans toys" as you can get.

  • It's not likely that those 121.5 MHz ELTs will be replaced any time soon, either. The 406 MHz ones cost way more, and are very expensive to install. I expect that the only replacements will happen because people need to fly to another country that requires them, or because their old ELT crapped out and they can't get replacement parts any more.

    • Only the satellite monitoring is changing, the regular ELT monitoring is staying the same for traditional ELTs.
      The 406 ELTs are great but are still in a "REV A" condition in such as they are expensive but are quickly getting smaller and less expensive.
      Soon they will be competitive in price and will take over the market naturally.
  • by Nobo (606465) on Friday January 16, 2009 @10:32AM (#26481405)

    Yes, the existing ELT (Emergency Location Transmitter) beacons are no longer monitored by satellite. That does not mean they become useless. They broacast an audio tone on a radio frequency all civil and military aircraft can tune to.

    Many pilots fly with their second radio continually tuned to this frequency, and I have been on flights in a general aviation flight where we have picked up beacons and reported them to ATC. More often than not, it's a hard landing that trips the beacon and the aircraft is parked on the ramp.

    Finally, when your aircraft does go missing, these beacons are deliberately tuned by authorities doing search and rescue work, such as the Civil Air Patrol. Aircraft listen for and locate the general location of the beacon, and ground personnel locate the beacon with good directional antennas.

    The (relatively) recent Fossett crash is a prime example of this -- His aircraft was not equipped with a ELT beacon at all (in violation of law) and had he been ELT equipped, he would have been found within a day.

    The big thing that changes here is that, with the sattelites no longer monitoring, ATC will not get an automatic alert when a beacon turns on. This tech is spotty at best, however, and of course, 90% of ELT activations are false alarms anyways.

    The new 406 Mhz beacons include a GPS reciever and actively transmit their location, such that rescue units simply get a waypoint on their GPS where the transmitter is downed. They are a far better technology, but the existing system does work well.

    Overall, more hype than needed.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      The (relatively) recent Fossett crash is a prime example of this -- His aircraft was not equipped with a ELT beacon at all (in violation of law) and had he been ELT equipped, he would have been found within a day.

      I hadn't heard this before, but my first thought now is WTF?!

      What kind of reasons would there be for him doing something like that?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by falcon5768 (629591)
        likely not installed. The aircraft he flew was home built from a kit. From what I remember hearing it was the first time he had ever flown it any distance beyond takeoffs and landings, and his intention was to only be taking a 20-30 min flight and head back as a sort of long range test.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          My intention when I get in my car is to drive where I'm going and get shit done, but I wear my seatbelt even though it sometimes chafes because there's a chance I'll get in an accident on the way. Kind of makes sense to have yourself a locator beacon if you sleep on a big bed of money.

        • According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], Fossett was flying a Bellanca Super Decathlon. That's not a homebuilt, it's a certified airplane that was an enhancement of the venerable Citabria...much like the 7ECA Citabria that I instruct in at my "night" job (yes, I'm a fly-by-night instructor, lol).

          It is possible that Fossett modified his Decathlon so that it met the requirements to become an experimental airplane, but that still wouldn't have excused him from the requirement for the ELT. The FARs require an ELT
    • by Shotgun (30919)

      The (relatively) recent Fossett crash is a prime example of this -- His aircraft was not equipped with a ELT beacon at all (in violation of law) and had he been ELT equipped, he would have been found within a day.

      First, it isn't against the law unless he was carrying passengers. The plane he was flying did not fall under those regs.

      Second, the plane would only be found IFF the ELT was activated by and lived through the crash. Historically, the odds are about even that this will not be the case.

      The big thing that changes here is that, with the sattelites no longer monitoring, ATC will not get an automatic alert when a beacon turns on. This tech is spotty at best, however, and of course, 90% of ELT activations are

      • You have a Delta?
        How are its flying characteristics?
        I've been fascinated by them for years but haven't ever seen one or gotten to talk to someone who actually had one.
        If you don't mind:
        Did you make it?
        What engine?
        What's *your* approach speed? (I know what the specs say but there are plenty of planes that fly like crap at the stated approach/Vso speeds so everyone flies them faster.)
        Likewise, what's *your* range?
        How many people do you think it can carry comfortably?

        • by Shotgun (30919)

          Mine should fly for the first time sometime this spring, so I can't answer all your questions.

          I'm using a rotary engine, and all indications from those flying are that it will be equivalent to a normally aspirated 360. My tank is slightly smaller than the plans, as I chose to weld up an aluminum tank so that I would have to worry about alcohol being in mogas.

          Range and exact approach speeds?...TBD.

          It will carry 3 adults comfortably. The pilot will be VERY comfortable compared to most light planes.

        • by Shotgun (30919)

          If you're truly interested, take the time to look up my last journal entry.

          • Oh, I am truly interested.
            By 'rotary' do you mean something like Tracy Cook's RX-7 conversion? Are you doing the conversion stuff yourself? (Boggle at the idea of doing that.)

            Thanks very much for the reply. I've spent a lot of time looking at the Dyke, but it's its rarity that has kept me only wondering.

  • by GooberToo (74388) on Friday January 16, 2009 @10:46AM (#26481577)

    First, it is important to remember, only satellite monitoring for 121.5 ELT is stopping. Ground and air based monitoring is still ongoing. Secondly, CAP (Civil Air Patrol; Axillary Air Force) does not have equipment to track 406. Keep in mind, CAP performs the bulk of the required search and rescue operations in the US. All 406s I'm aware of have a dual mode of 121.5/406. This means it's more likely you'll actually be located by rescue crews using 121.5.

    The problem is, because of the FAA, there is no competition. This means purchase plus install for a really nice 406 unit can cost in excess of $5000 for a $200-$400 ELT. Now that lower priced units, and units which are compatible with existing installs are finally starting to come onto the market you'll start to see increase in the number of installations. Yet the bulk of these installs will likely occur either during an aircraft's annual or when the existing ELT's battery requires replacement. The combination of the two means installs should start to increase sometime over the next 24-months.

    In the meantime, many have elected to go with much cheaper solutions. Personal Locater Beacons (PLBs) and SPOT [findmespot.com] are very popular with pilots because they can be had at a fraction of the cost despite their reduced sized and increased capabilities.

    The big advantage of the 406 ELT is the specification allows for a data component. Specifically, it allows an aircraft's GPS to continuously update the ELT with its current location. In the event of an emergency, the ELT can be manually armed or be set off from excessive G's (impact). Once set off, the ELT immediately transmits the last known location received from the GPS. This allows for very high accuracy position reporting. Of course the problem is, pilots want this capability and most existing manufacturers are attempting to rape owners.

    Right now, Artex's ME406 [artex.net] is about the only reasonably priced unit available and it hasn't been on the market all that long.

    Lastly, let's not forget satellite monitoring of 121.5 is really pretty crappy. Your typical detection window requires three satellites to pass overhead, ignoring the fact it can technically be done in two. The detection capabilities of the existing satellites are pretty crappy. And if one of the Russian satellites are in the mix, you may even require four satellite passes overhead before anyone is dispatched. This means you're looking at anywhere from 10-36 hours before someone picks up the phone to get people looking for you - unless you filed an optional flight plan. In the end, loss of satellite detection for 121.5, while certainly not good, is not really a nightmare scenario.

    In the end, the best thing to do is to simply let someone know when you're flying, where you're going, the route you're taking, and the time you expect to arrive. Ideally, this is someone at your destination. And should you not show or be heard from, teach them to call the FAA or an official briefing station. At that time, they can immediately dispatch a search effort. Meaning, for many pilots, this is actually a better plan than filing a flight plan with the FAA. Routes which are not direct or too complicated to convey to laymen should be filed via flight plan.

    And for those interested, here is a comparison of existing, alternative tracking solutions. [n6030x.com]

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      The problem is, because of the FAA, there is no competition. This means purchase plus install for a really nice 406 unit can cost in excess of $5000 for a $200-$400 ELT. Now that lower priced units, and units which are compatible with existing installs are finally starting to come onto the market you'll start to see increase in the number of installations. Yet the bulk of these installs will likely occur either during an aircraft's annual or when the existing ELT's battery requires replacement. The combinat

      • by GooberToo (74388)

        Ya, I read about that requirement. I also read US planes which pass into Canada or Mexico also require 406 ELTs. Last I heard, there may be some push back on the Mexico requirement. I'm not sure which direction it will take.

        The only concession is a long-standing ban on ELTs using LiSO3 batteries has been liften

        I hadn't heard about that. Any idea if that includes the US?

        And no, a PLB or SPOT device isn't suitable.

        In the US, the PLB and SPOT is an option strictly so long as you have a functioning 121.5 ELT as

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      Thanks for all the excellent info.

      The example of GPS inaccuracy (on your final linked page) also casts doubt on personal GPS, such as for tracking devices affixed to various "undesirables" (parolees, sex offenders, whatever is this week's social boogeyman). The pictured inaccuracy is roughly the same as "every trailer in the park" or "every house on this side of the block". It's probably good enough for finding a downed airplane, but hardly definitive for tracking a person.

      • by GooberToo (74388)

        Given a good reception for something you may carry on your person, simple GPs can still provide ~12+m resolution which is more like, this house or that house, or even a specific house.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        The longer you stay in one place the greater the accuracy of GPS. Even my antique Garmin GPS12 can handle that. Supersampling works when SA is active, too.

    • In the meantime, many have elected to go with much cheaper solutions. Personal Locater Beacons (PLBs) and SPOT [findmespot.com] are very popular with pilots because they can be had at a fraction of the cost despite their reduced sized and increased capabilities.

      The SPOT messenger is advertised in many hunting and other outdoors magazines. I've thought about getting one for when I go out in areas where cell phone coverage is very unreliable or non-existent. It looks like a slick device. I wonder if there

  • What is this? Making a big deal out not monitoring a frequency that would potentially save lives when grandma's TV could stop working in just a matter of days. Have you no sense of perspective? Saving lives or making sure the American public has an uninterrupted stream of Wheel of Fortune? Come on now, wake up and smell the stale beer.

    • by Shotgun (30919)

      Not just Wheel of Fortune. High-Definition Wheel of Fortune.

      Now that changes the equation a bit, doesn't it?

  • by maric (770402) on Friday January 16, 2009 @03:48PM (#26486349)
    Many private pilots are upset about this requirements for new equipment on their aircraft. I can understand their side of the issue. In many cases their existing equipment has been working fine for many years and now has to be replaced. In addition many equipment manufacturers take advantage of this to price gouge a bit. Plus there is something that is not addressed by many here - install. Aircraft are regulated much more than automobiles. To simply install a part can have a lot of requirements. For an ELT to be replaced it must be done by a Certificated Mechanic with at least an Airframe rating or an authorized repairman working under his/her shops certificate. The ELT can't be some j-random unit, it must be one that is certified for use on that specific model and type of aircraft (like saying that this part is only for Ford F-150s made in 1980 - 82 with the serial number range of such and such) there is a host of paperwork and testing to be carried out to get one certified if it is not already. Assuming that this is a drop in replacement of a unit with identical form factor and weight and power draw etc... there will be STC paper work, weight and balance etc applied. It is not as simple to get a plane with the new ELTs to be legal. Even with the requirement, the actual install is faster and easier then the rest of the regulatory stuff. This all translates to a hidden cost that is added to the purchase price. The customer can end up with a huge bill after buying a $200-$300 part. Not fun.

    The flip side is this. Yes, the old 121.5 ELTs work. Yes, the new ones can also broadcast in 121.5 too. My job and the FAA's job is not to fix planes. Our job is our customer's safety. That is the whole point to this and many other things we do. The bottom line is the 406 ELTs will help Search and Rescue assets quickly and accurately respond to aviation emergencies. Even with a good fix on a 121 ELT the search area yeilded can still be as large as 100 square miles. 406's can reduce that same search area to 1 square mile. This will save lives. So, while I can feel empathy for my customers that do not want to get this new ELT and can in some cases ill afford it, I want them to be safe too. BTW- The money thing does not impact me as I do not profit from the install directly - I'm on an hourly rate. I would suggest to aircraft owners that they contact their local Avionics shops. Look to the smaller ones as they can usually take time to work with a customer as an individual rather than as a overall policy. Talk with several and make sure that they answer all of your questions. Get several quotes first. Then schedule your appointment. At this point in the game I would say that if you are an infrequent flier consider storing your plane for a while and wait the higher prices out. If you truly need your aircraft to be functional after the drop dead date get cracking as slots in your local shops will fill rapidly once the deadline is close.

    Either way, stay safe.
    Maric

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