More than 98 percent of the 8,898 alerts from aviation 406-MHz emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) last year in the U.S. were false alarms. Only 112 alerts were authentic distress situations, according to figures from the NOAA Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) team.
Thus, the FAA has published Information for Operators 18007 to provide awareness to aircraft operators and pilots on the problem of ELT false alerts. In addition to incorrect testing and maintenance, accidental false alerts can be caused by improper installation, unfamiliarity with beacon operation, and hard landings, according to the FAA. Search-and-rescue (SAR) personnel respond immediately to every activation of a 406-MHz ELT. This response will stop only when it has been proven that the activation was a false alert.
“Because of this, every false alert has the potential to put rescuers in harm’s way and waste valuable resources,” the FAA said. “If the ELT is accidentally activated, cancel the false alert by calling the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at (800) 851-3051, or the nearest FAA ATC facility.”
A method to help save time and resources for SAR personnel is to have a registered ELT. The quickest way for SAR personnel to confirm a false alert is to place a telephone call to the person to whom the ELT is registered. With a properly registered ELT, the transmitted signal includes a digital code that can be used to identify the owner. Operators should also ensure that ELT self-tests and annual tests are conducted according to the manufacturer’s instructions and FAA recommendations.