In this piece, ANTHONY OMOH looks at the use of the Emergency Locator Translator (ELT) Beacon as a device to aid aviation and even maritime sector in case there is need for a search and rescue exercise highlighting the advantages of having the locator on board aircraft which most Nigerian aircraft have and the disadvantages which can arise from failure to detect the locator after any problem
The aftermath of the helicopter crash a fortnight ago and the reaction time of rescue agents have made the call for Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) beacons to be used on aircraft and ships to make locating them, in case of an accident, less cumbersome
However, Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren has said that despite its wide acceptance the ELT is old technology and not as current as what is being used to track aircraft real time.
Dr. Demuren made this known against certain misrepresentations of facts in the media stating that the ELT device which is found on just about every aircraft registered and flying in the country is not a safety device but more of survival equipment in search and rescue.
According to him, the ELT does not save people or stop crashes but only becomes important once there is one so as to make the job of finding the crash site easy.
“Look it’s just like wearing a GPS on your body as a tracker, will it stop accidents? No. It will only make it easy to find you if there are accidents, it is a tracking system and not safety equipment.”
He said that the ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SRP) calls for the carriage of ELTs by certain categories of aircraft on long-range over water flights and on flights over designated remote areas.
In a paper he delivered at the just concluded stakeholders’ forum organised by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Dr. Demuren said that since January 1, 2005, ICAO expected ELTs to transmit on both 406MHz and 121.5 MHz.
He also said that in a motion on 27th February 2007, the Senate resolved that the Federal Ministry of Transportation (Aviation) should compel all airline operators using Nigerian airspace to install 406MHz ELTs in their aircraft before the global deadline of 1st February 2009.
He however said that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (NCARs) has since required 406MHz ELTs in all aircraft from 31st December 2007.
According to the NCAA boss, there is a high level of compliance with the fitting of 406MHz ELTs on Nigerian aircraft. All aircraft currently being flown by our major airlines including, Arik, Aero, Chanchangi, Dana, Associated, Overland, Bristow, Pan African, Caverton, Air Nigeria and IRS have 406MHz ELTs.
Each 406MHz ELT transmits a unique code that enables search authorities to identify the owner of a beacon that is triggered.
This is particularly useful when there has been unintentional beacon activation since unnecessary and costly searches can be avoided.
ELTs are usually registered in the country where the aircraft is registered; however this does not affect search operations.
The Search and Rescue authorities responsible for the area where an ELT is transmitting will be notified whenever the COSPAS-SARSAT system detects a signal.
Search and Rescue action will commence regardless of where an activated ELT is registered, and will even commence if the ELT is not registered.
“ELTs are not part of an aircraft’s safety equipment; they are part of the survival equipment, just like Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVRs) and Flight Data Recorders (FDRs), ELTs do not prevent accidents; they are helpful only once an accident has occurred.”
“Unlike CVRs and FDRs that stop working when a crash occurs, ELTs must survive a crash and then start working if they are to be effective.”
According to Demuren, failure to detect an ELT signal from a crashed aircraft could be for various reasons including: the aircraft was not carrying a serviceable ELT, the ELT did not activate automatically, the ELT was destroyed or damaged by the crash forces, the ELT’s antenna was damaged or became separated during the crash sequence, the ELT’s antenna is covered by wreckage or otherwise does not have a clear ‘view’ of the sky, thus preventing reception of its signal by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellites.
COSPAS-SARSAT MCC may sometimes be unserviceable to pick the aircraft emergency alert signal ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group(II/JWP) at its Eleventh meeting identified two major factors affecting COSPAS-SARSAT effectiveness: a. False alert and b. Interference in 406.0 – 406.1MHz frequency band
He also sadly noted that not all Mission Control Centers (MCCs) of the COSPAS-SARSAT are manned 24/7 and not all can boast of 24 hour power supply.
EPIRBs, officially known as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons are designed to save your life if you get into trouble by alerting rescue authorities and indicating your location anywhere in the world PLBs – Personal Locator Beacons.
The 5 years COSPAS-SARSAT alert failure rate reports 95.8 per cent for 406MHz beacons.
This 95.8 per cent rate indicates that only one (1) in every 20 alerts is genuine distress signal.
The good news is that NCAA is now using the Flight Tracking System (FTS) for real time monitoring of exact aircraft position.
National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) had during the forum canvassed for stiff penalties for airlines and maritime operators who fail to install Beacon 406MHz on their aircraft and vessels.
Director General of the NEMA, Alhaji Muhammad Sani Sidi stated that the problem of location detection in search and rescue operations could be minimized if all stakeholders comply with the international civil aviation organization (ICAO) and the international maritime organization (IMO) directive that all aircraft and sea faring vessels be equipped with emergency locator transmitters (ELT) beacons.
He explained that emergency location transmitters are part of the equipment for the improvement of search and rescue operations using space technology. The system is known as COSPAS-SARSAT.
According to the director general, the international COSPAS-SARSAT system offers humanity a good platform to improve aviation and maritime safety as well as tools for effective and efficient disaster management.
“The international COSPAS-SARSAT system is a good example of how space technology could be leveraged to identify accident locations as the system has the capacity to pick up distress signals from a 406MHz beacon fitted on board an aircraft or ship. It is pertinent to note that both ICAO and IMOhave made it compulsory for all passenger aircrafts and ships to carry the 406MHz beacon in order to facilitate search and rescue efforts in the event of any disaster,” said Sidi.
However with the disadvantages of the ELT the aviation sub sector has since moved beyond the technology which according to ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group states that false alerts on the 406 beacon are on the increase.
According to the statistics the 5 year COSPAS-SARSAT alert failure rates reports 95.8 per cent for 406MHz beacons meaning that only one (1) in every 20 alerts is genuine distress signal.
Of this Demuren said that the NCAA not only depends on the ELT but has devised another means of tracking aircraft in the Nigeria airspace with the use of the Flight Tracking system (FTS) which is used for real time monitoring of exact aircraft position.
The system is configured in such a way that all aircraft flying the country is picked up real time: When aircraft are still in flight they are indicated as blue and when they are red it signifies that the aircraft has touched down.
This technology complements for a;; the short comings of the ELT as it would pinpoint an aircraft in distress give you the date, registration, its latitude, longitude, ground speed (Knots), pressure and the map.
Despite all the Technology, the DG however said that if there was an incident or accident, it is those at the site of the accident that will know first stating that the villagers, fishermen, farmers, traders, journalist, fire-fighters, security agents and a host f others are those who will help look for crash sites if they happen.
He gave an example with the Kenyan Airways flight in May 2007, stating that after the aircraft crashed into the swamp it was not technology but a fisherman that found the aircraft wreckages before search and rescue were alerted.