February 2009 Issue

ELT Alternatives

Older, 121.5 MHz ELTs wonít be monitored by satellite starting this month. While pricier 406 MHz units are available, you also have some portable options.

Emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) are one piece of equipment airplane owners love to hate. They donít work very well and they always seem to need replacement batteries. And, beginning this month, satellite monitoring of 121.5 MHz ELTs will cease, instantly making what didnít work all that well to begin with next to useless. This turn of events should not come as a surprise, since the U.S. Department of Commerce first publicized the Cospas-Sarsat decision to stop monitoring 121.5 MHz in November 2000. Cospas-Sarsat, of course, is the international organization charged with maintaining and monitoring the satellites listening for distress signals from ELTs and other devices. For pilots and aircraft owners, one question is whether 121.5 MHZ equipment will continue to be adequate. Another is whether alternatives exist to upgrading to a new-technology ELT transmitting on 406 MHz, the frequency on which Cospas-Sarsat satellites will continue to listen. The answers arenít that complicated. Letís first take a look at the two technologies, and then something in the way of an interim solution to have a 406 ELT on a 121.5 budget.

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