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Do You Need a 406 Megahertz ELT?

By Ian Brown, EAA 657159, Editor and Canadian Council Board Member

June 2017 - If you were wondering about the present status of emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) in Canada and the once almost-legislated mandatory use of the 406 megahertz (MHz) variant, you will be glad to know that 406 is not required by law and there are no time-critical dates that you need to be worrying about at present.

The March 2017 issue of Transport Canada’s Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) contains the following paragraphs:

“Emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) are required for most general aviation aircraft (see CAR 605.38). They operate on a primary frequency of 121.5, 243, or 406 MHz, and help search crews locate downed aircraft to rescue survivors.

“Pilots are strongly encouraged to switch from old analog 121.5 MHz ELTs to the newer 406 MHz digital ELTs, since position information from a 406 MHz ELT is calculated and relayed to the appropriate joint rescue coordination centre (JRCC) for action. The 406 MHz beacon is associated with a unique user; therefore, identification is rapid and resolution of a false alarm may only require a few phone calls. In addition, activation of a 406 MHz ELT is detected by satellites, whereas, a 121.5 MHz signal relies on the aircraft being within the range of an air traffic service (ATS) facility or on another aircraft passing by at high altitude.”

You may wish to consider which methods of broadcasting would best suit your particular type of flying, including ELT, SPOT Personal Tracker, or whatever you personally believe would be in your best interests.

As usual, you can Google yourself silly trying to find up-to-date information about this, but it seems that, in general, if you are buying and installing a new ELT, 406 is the way to go. That said, there are no laws preventing continued use of the 121.5 MHz ELTs that are already out there, if you are willing to risk the fact that these signals are not being monitored federally. It’s up to you to decide whether you think passing aircraft will be monitoring 121.5.

If you are thinking about your budget for safety enhancements, it’s really up to you to decide whether your money would be best spent on a 406 ELT, those new tires, or whatever else it is that keeps you awake at night.

In my case, a noncatastrophic accident a few years back resulted in three pilots reporting that they heard my ELT, but this is likely to change year over year.

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