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Canadian 406 ELT rules Print E-mail

406 ELT kitIt continues to be legal to fly private aircraft in Canada with a 121.5 ELT. And a recent edition of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association newsletter reports that changes to the rules aren't likely in the near future.

However, keep in mind that  COSPAS/SARSAT no longer monitors 121.5.  So if you don't have a ELT operating on 406 mHz, you don't have a means of automatically notifying the search and rescue authorities if your plane goes down.  If you're relying only on your 121.5 ELT, the only chance to you have of being detected in an emergency is if another aircraft hears your ELT signal on 121.5.  And in the north of Canada, that isn't something you want to rely on.  The advantage of the 406 ELT is that it can provide data about your flight, and with some units, GPS information about your location.  But the issue about whether or not to convert to 406 is complex.

The Canadian rules on ELTs are expected to change.  But it isn't clear when that will happen, or what the new regulations will entail. Transport Canada sent the proposed new regulations back for "further consultations with stakeholders" in May 2010. And apparently, the new minister sent them back for further review again in 2011. Isn't isn't clear yet whether Transport Canada will mandate the change to the 406 ELT, or look at some of the other options currently available. The Department of National Defence (DND), which runs Canada's Search and Rescue system,  favours the 406 mhz ELT.  But it isn't clear whether the government is prepared to mandate 406 ELTs, knowing the US isn't likely to follow suit, and knowing that there is new technology (Mid Earth Orbit Satellite systems /MEOSAT) on the horizon that may provide better aircraft tracking options.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the use of radio transmission, announced in the summer of 2010 that it proposed to ban the use of 121.5 ELTs in the US starting in August, 2010. However, that didn't happen. Most recently, the White House urged the FCC to make 406 ELTs mandatory in the US by 2022.   The Aircraft Electronics Association wants the FCC to continue to allow existing 121.5 ELTS to be used, but is against continuing the manufacture of 121.5 ELTs. 

In Canada, there has been much debate about whether the 406 ELT is the best answer for emergency alerting for private aircraft.  The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association has been very active on this file, trying get Transport Canada to look at a wider range of emergency alerting alternatives, including tracking devices such as SPOT and Spidertracks.  And wth changing technology, there may soon be other options that could provide a wider range of more effective aircraft tracking and emergency alerting options.

Here's the recent chronology on the 406 issue in Canada:

In May, 2010, the COPA reports that Transport Canada will mandate the use of a 406 ELT on most aircraft flying in Canada, including private aircraft. The regulation has not yet been "gazetted" in the Canada Gazette yet, which means the current 121.5 ELT rules remain in effect.

On July 8, 2010, the Director General of Civil Aviation for Transport Canada, Martin Eley, told the Canadian Business Aviation Association convention in Calgary that " an ELT regulatory package is currently being processed and will come into force as soon as possible."

He went on to say that "the current regulation does not mandate a 406 MHz ELT, but it does require that you have a transmitter with similar performance capabilities. We are also giving you time to make this upgrade to your aircraft. This will also provide time for ELT production to increase." He didn't specify what those timeframes would be.

COPA says it appears that "alternate means of emergency location approved by Transport Canada" in the new regs isn't likely to include some of the new tracking systems on the market, like SPOT, Spidertracks, Latitude Web Sentinel, Skytrac and others.  These tracking systems appear to be unacceptable to DND and Transport Canada because they cannot automatically activate a distress signal in a crash.  But of course, the regular tracking would provide a fairly narrow location to start a search, even if a pilot wasn't able to manually send a distress signal using the tracking unit.  And, as COPA has argued,  ELTs, both 406 and 121.5  sometimes fail to survive a crash and transmit an emergency signal.

In March, 2011 COPA reports that there is no new information on this file. The March 2010 article at COPA noted above continues to be the most up to date information.

In December 2011, COPA again reports that there hasn't been any change in the situation. Apparently, the new Transport Minister has referred the draft legislation back to his department for further study.  As COPA notes, changes in coming satellite technology, improvements in currently available tracking devices and the failure of a number of 406 units in crashes all point to different options for emergency notification for general aviation.

The COPA website has an excellent article explaining the situation. There is also a  COPA article from February 2009 that outlines some of the issues behind the requirement for 406 ELTs.

If you're not a member,  consider joining COPA for important information on this and many other general aviation issues.

There was also some controversy around the original planned requirement that the new 406 ELTs would have to be installed by an avionics shop. There continues to be an exemption in effect that allows the work to be done by a licenced AME on private aircraft installations, where the ELT does not interface with an onboard system such as a GPS navigation system.  Currently, the exemption is in place until March 31, 2014, according to Transport Canada

Through any transition period that may be prescribed by the new regulations, pilots flying in the arctic regions of Canada will need to think very carefully before flying with just a 121.5 ELT.  Only using a 121.5 ELT means no method of automatically alerting authorities if you get into trouble, other than hoping another aircraft is listening on 121.5.  We've seen some pilots using satellite flight tracking services, and devices like SPOT, in addition to a 121.5 ELT. And as noted above,  Canadian Search and Rescue authorities are strongly encouraging the use of 406 mhz ELTs.

Here's the list of Canadian certified 406 ELTS

Last Updated on Monday, 10 February 2014 20:54
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