As it turns out, you have about four choices. The cheapest: Do nothing. Your old-fashioned 121.5 MHz ELT will be perfectly legal to fly with, at least in the United States, even after February 2009 when satellites stop monitoring that signal; going to Mexico or Canada–different story. Search and rescue crews will continue to monitor the frequency.
Next you could buy a 406 MHz ELT, which is monitored by the satellites and will likely do a better job of locating you and calling in the cavalry. But the G switch on the new models is the same as the old one so the likelihood of the ELT going off is the same as before–and they don’t have a terrific record. You’ll pay about $1,000 for a basic 406 MHz ELT, including installation. But, the next option, adding a GPS interface probably doubles that cost, but greatly improves the accuracy of the search because the system bursts coordinates to the satellite for easy tracking should you “land somewhere other than an airport,” as I like to say rather than using the “c” word with passengers.
Finally, you could get similar benefits by keeping your old ELT and investing in a personal locator beacon (PLB). It too can provide good accuracy in finding you, but it has no G switch, so it’s up to you to set it off if you end up in a bad situation. PLBs can be had for a few hundred dollars.
As for me, I’m uncertain. It would be nice to know the cavalry is coming, but do I want to spend $2,000 for the unlikely chance I’ll end up someplace as remote as Steve Fossett (his 121.5 MHz ELT apparently didn’t activate). Those PLBs might make a nice Christmas present for those who never know what to get me…. (Note to self: Send link to wife.) How about you?
Tags: Tom Haines