The ABCs of ELTs

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A clear understanding of FAR 91.207 is just the beginning for pilots looking at installing a new ELT.

March 2015-

"ELTs are specialized radio transmitters that sit in the aircraft and are designed to do nothing," says Joan Goodman, president of Emergency Beacon Corp. based in New Rochelle, N.Y. "And they should do nothing—that is, they are designed not to interfere [with other equipment]."
That is, until they're needed. "In the event of an incident, the ELT will either trigger automatically, or can be manually activated," Goodman explained. Automatic ELTs begin transmitting an emergency distress signal only after a significant change in velocity of the aircraft.
There are a number of companies that make 406 MHz ELTs for use in the United States. These include ACK, ACR/Artex, Ameri-King, Emergency Beacon Corp., Emerging Lifesaving Technologies and Kannad.

Factors in the price
A 406 MHz ELT can be costly, and there are several reasons why. First, the parts play a big role. "The signal is so specific and so narrow, you need a very specific oscillator—and it's very expensive," Goodman told me. "If the price of the oscillator came down, prices on ELTs would come down."
The testing process is also a factor in the final price. These devices are built to withstand a lot, and their critical electronics—which Goodman says are "quite small, actually"—need to be well protected. Emergency Beacon's units house these potentially lifesaving electronics under closed-cell polyurethane.
Because a certified ELT is required to put out a five-watt burst signal and transmit on 406 MHz for 24 hours and at 121.5 for 48 hours, it has to have a good power source. "There's only one [element] that'll do that: lithium," said Goodman. And lithium batteries can be pricey.
The inclusion of GPS technology can also drive up the price of an ELT. GPS allows greater detail, but at a significant cost. Emergency Beacon Corp. doesn't offer GPS-enhanced ELTs right now—the technology adds both cost and complication, Goodman says. "The information [already] provided by the satellites will get a rescuer so close that they can typically walk to the site," she explained.

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