Why carry one at all? Well, if being rescued quickly in an emergency is not big enough motivation to carry one, CASA gives some added motivation in the form of regulations. CAR 252A tells us that we must carry an approved ELT for all flights outside a 50nm radius of the departure aerodrome. 121.5/243 MHz beacons will no longer be monitored after 1 February 2009. Only 406 MHz will be monitored, however 121.5 MHz will still be used for final homing of the signal by search aircraft. The new beacons transmit on both 406 MHz and 121.5 MHz. CASA tells us that the new CAR 252A (post 1 Feb 09) will contain the same scope as the current regulation, apart from a provision requiring registration of the 406 MHz beacons. The option to have a fixed ELT, portable PLB or EPIRB will remain.
So if, like me, you haven’t upgraded to a 406MHz beacon yet, you may be wondering what you should do before 1 February 2009.
The three options are:
- Install an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) in your aircraft.
- Buy a PLB (Portable Locator Beacon) and carry it with you when you fly.
- Buy an EPIRB (a marine beacon) and carry it with you when you fly.
Fixed Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT)
A fixed ELT is installed in the aircraft (normally inside the rear fuselage) and requires a bracket, aerial and sometimes a remote operation switch in the instrument panel. The batteries require replacement at regular intervals, but otherwise they are virtually maintenance free. They activate automatically during a crash impact, and most can be operated manually as well either by the remote switch or a switch on the unit itself. Some can be removed from the aircraft and fitted with a ‘portable’ aerial in case you have to leave the aircraft after a crash.
It’s set and forget. You don’t need to remember to carry it, it self activates in a crash, and your maintenance organisation should take care of the battery replacement and any other maintenance.
Expensive ($2000 plus) compared to a portable equivalent. If you fly more than one aircraft, you need to have one in each aircraft. May not operate if the crash results in fire or if the aircraft is in water. Batteries require replacement frequently (normally every 2 years).
Portable Locator Beacon (PLB)
A PLB is a pocket sized devise designed to be manually activated in an emergency. Very useful if it is kept in your pocket, not so handy floating around in the bottom of your map bag. It is recommended that a portable beacon is activated as soon as an emergency develops i.e. while still in flight. You can always deactivate it and notify the authorities if everything turns out ok.
Less than half the cost of the fixed version.
You can take it with you after you land, so if the aircraft burns, or sinks, you still have a working beacon to bring the rescuers to you. While the new regulations will require all beacons to be registered to the owner and record the aircraft registration and details, it is still possible to change the details and use it in another aircraft or for other recreational pursuits. Even without changing the details, I think I would rather have it than not, and will be taking mine on all flights and boat trips etc just in case.
If you don’t activate it before the ‘landing’, and aren’t capable of activating it after the ‘landing’ it wont be any use to you. You have to remember to carry it, and take it with you when you get out of the aircraft. It’s a good idea to let your passengers know how to use it and where to find it.
Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)
This is the term for the boating version, I won’t go into the details, but they are designed for activation in water. They are often bigger than a PLB but are used in much the same way.
SummaryRescue Coordination Centre (RCC) Australia highly recommends carrying a PLB on your person, even if the aircraft is fitted with a fixed ELT.
For my money, I will be going for a PLB ($400 to $800 depending on model and features). When I’m feeling flush with cash in the future, I will consider a fixed ELT, but will still carry the PLB.
If you want to upgrade an existing fixed ELT to the new 406 MHz type, there are some options that allow you to reuse the existing wiring harness from the remote switch to the ELT. They cost around $2000 plus installation, and those with a GPS option are about double that. The ones to look at are the ME406 for new installations or ME406 ACE for replacement of ACK or Ameri-King installations. Contact us if you would like to go down this track, we can take care of the ordering and installation for you.
GPS or no GPS?
You have probably noticed that 406 MHz beacons offer the option of integrated GPS. This doesn’t mean you can throw away your Garmin and maps! It is a small GPS inside the unit that sends out your GPS position along with the distress signal and details of the person/aircraft the beacon is registered to. This should get the rescuers to you faster, with less time spent ‘homing’ the signal to find you. It adds to the price (about $100 more on most of the PLBs), but you will probably appreciate it if the time comes and you activate it.
If you want to go portable, but don’t know which one to buy, here is a summary of those on the market (in order of my personal preference):
- KTI MiniSat 406 (10 year warranty, 10 year battery replacement, strobe, the smallest PLB of the lot, Australian made)
- GME MT410 (7 year warranty, 7 year battery replacement, strobe, Australian made)
- Kannard (5 year battery, 5 year warranty, no strobe)
- ACR AQUAFix (10 year battery life, 5 year warranty, no strobe)
- McMurdo Fastfind (5 year battery life, 5 year warranty, no strobe)
The KTI is, in my opinion, superior in all aspects, is made in Melbourne, and it’s not any more expensive than the imports. The problem is they are still awaiting COSPAS/SARSAT approval before they begin manufacturing them. This was supposed to happen by August 2008, but the latest news is that due to the changing performance requirements since testing began, they don’t expect to release them until April 09. If you can’t wait, I would suggest the GME is the next best option. None of the others really come close to the KTI and GME for features and warranty, so this is one case where Australian Made is a really easy choice! Don’t be tempted to buy one from an overseas website, or while on holidays OS, they may not be usable in Australia due to the different coding used.
Supply is a tight on the GME at the moment; most retailers are saying they are waiting for more stock to arrive. If you want one, place an order quick!
My hot tip for where to buy the GME or others? Many pilot supply shops have them, including Skysupply, and Skyshop. Aviall at Airport West also sells the GME. The best prices I can find are at Whitworths Marine.
Maybe it is not too late to add it to your Christmas list. It is one ‘gadget’ your family members will be pleased you carry!
What do you do with your old 121.5 MHz ELT?
Take your old PLB, ELT or EPIRB to a Battery World store for disposal (no charge).
Article by Kim Skyring
References and further reading:
Australian Maritime Safety Authority Beacon Information
An independent review of various PLB’s
Visit the CASA website for more information