In the past few years devices that combine the technologies of GPS and satellite communication have become popular, with increasing use in the aviation community as an alternate way to either track your flight, or call for help. A little over a year ago AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association started working with the Alaska Flight Service Program, to explore the possibility of integrating devices such as SPOT and Spidertracks into the flight plans we file. The idea that a distress call, including your current location, could go straight to Flight Service, and be forwarded to search and rescue, seemed like an improvement on today’s procedure of waiting for a flight plan to become overdue, especially if your ELT failed to function during the landing.
The idea was well received by the FAA who then started working on the many details needed to develop procedures. Initially Adam White, President of the Airmen’s Association, and I, along with a couple of Flight Service staff members who own one of these devices, generated some “alert” messages, to evaluate the system. Now, after a season of testing and refinement, the Alaska FSS is to the point of needing a few more pilots to participate in the “beta-testing” phase of this system. To be clear, Flight Service does not track any aircraft, but has the ability to receive an alert or help message when activated by the pilot. Upon receipt of a help message, FSS will validate it against a flight plan, and forward the necessary information, including your location, to search and rescue authorities.
Currently, we are looking for about a dozen pilots who:
- have either a SPOT or Spidertracks unit
- are willing to establish (or update) a Master Flight Plan with their home Flight Service Station and,
- would be willing to participate in controlled tests to help Flight Service exercise the system.
If you are willing to be involved in the program, please contact Tom George (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Adam White (email@example.com) for more details. We hope this testing will go quickly, and allow Flight Service to offer this new service to all interested pilots across Alaska!