NTSB to hold forum on GA search and rescue

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a forum focused on general aviation search and rescue operations July 17 and 18.

In the United States, following the crash of a general aviation airplane, inland searches for the aircraft are conducted by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, who are supported by numerous federal, state, local, and volunteer organizations.

The forum will concentrate on examining the regulations, policies, and procedures at a federal level and serve as a platform to facilitate dialog between search organizations, technology manufacturers, and industry groups on the issues currently impacting the general aviation community, NTSB officials said. Additionally, the forum will spend a second day discussing emerging technologies and how they may shape the future of general aviation search and rescue.

The two-day forum is being chaired by NTSB Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman and all five board members will participate. Panelists participating in the forum will represent government and industry.

“Search and rescue can often mean the difference between life and death,” said Hersman. “Unfortunately, every year we see delays in the detection and location of crashed aircraft due to outdated equipment and a failure to coordinate information and assets.”

The NTSB has issued more than two dozen safety recommendations on search and rescue, conducted safety studies addressing ways to improve search and rescue operations and even included general aviation safety on the Most Wanted List of transportation improvements.

A detailed agenda and list of participants will be released closer to the date of the event.

The forum will be held in the NTSB Board Room and Conference Center, located at 429 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington D.C. It is open to the public and free of charge. For those who are unable to attend in person, the forum can be viewed via webcast at NTSB.gov.


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  1. BillW4LFC says

    Currently, Civil Air Patrol (CAP) performs about 90% of all inland search and rescue missions requested by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC).  The AFRCC is under the command of 1st Air Force, Air Forces Northern (1AF (AFNORTH)), LtGen Sid Clarke, Commander.   
    The NTSB’s quest for answers to slow Search and Rescue (SAR) response time reminds me of a solution looking for a cause.  One only needs to understand the current status of ELT regulatory requirements to realize the value in this statement.  Before 1 February 2009, aircraft were required to carry Distress Radio Beacons operating on 121.5 MHz (civilian) or 243 MHz (military).  Prior to this date (since 1982), these frequencies were monitored by the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system and were the primary modes of detection (accidental or intentional) for a potential aircraft accident. 
    Prior to this date, new digital ELTs operating on 406 MHz were mandated for all aircraft.  These ELTs are amazing in their effectiveness.  A signal can be validated and SAR support requested within 10 minutes vs. 4 to 12 hours with the old 121.5 MHz ELTs.  The new ELTs also have the capability of transmitting a digital string of up to 30 characters which include information for contacting the registered owner(s) and the GPS coordinates of the ELT’s current location.  This latter information reduces the search area from about a 40 km (24 mi) circle to a 15 m (45 ft) circle.  One might think this would be a tremendous incentive to transition to the new ELTs.
    Here’s the problem.  Any time a new item on an aircraft (or any other application) becomes mandatory, the price escalates and general aviation (GA) balked at the prospect of expensive new ELTs.  The FAA relented so the requirement is not mandatory at this time and we have a multitude of aircraft flying with old 121.5 MHz ELTs that are no longer monitored by the satellite system.  Operating towers, some GA pilots and all CAP pilots make a point of monitoring the old frequency when airborne and many of today’s search missions are centered on these ELTs.  However, the SAR activation procedure is in reverse with its inherent delays.  Most GA pilots will call (PIREP) some element of Air Traffic Control should they hear an ELT but think of the delay when an aircraft with an old ELT goes down in a remote area with little air traffic. 
    CAP mission pilots are highly trained (many are former military pilots) and accomplish a variety of special missions for local, state and federal agencies.  It is rare when these unpaid professionals exceed two hours from a phone call to being airborne.  The delay is not in the SAR activity but in the system that creates the need for such.  The NTSB should look at the cause.  The solution is already here.
    For those interested in learning more about ELTs, try this site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_Locator_Transmitter. (or search for distress radiobeacon)
    Col William Bass, CAP
    Vice Commander, Alabama Wing
    Former Commander, Florida Wing

  2. cfii_dan says

    I was in CAP in north Idaho and I was a chief check pilot. If we had an ELT signal we could find the crash in no time at all, but most of the time the ELT was damaged in the crash and we had to do grid searches. Usually if a non-CAP plane was out there searching they would zigzag across the search area and cause a hazard. And usually those pilots would be looking at the ground and not looking for other airplanes in the air. CAP does have lot of rules but most of them are there for safety.

    • BillW4LFC says

      The higher the profile of the person(s) involved, the more incursions of aircraft trying to “help” is the usual problem.  Fortunately, Incident Commanders can request via AFRCC that a TFR be placed over the search area restricting the airspace to validated search aircraft.  It is seldom used but is available if needed.

      Col William Bass, CAP

  3. Rwyerosk says

    FAA has been holding safety meeting for years. It seems that these meeting do not attract the pilots that are involved in all the  accidents and incidents.

    Unfortunately the accident rate has been increasing and the FAA does not know what to do

    Maybe the reason is because FAA Senior Management in Washington DC  has little or “NO” aviation experience!


    Richard Wyeroski, former FAA Inspector

  4. Kevin D'Angelo says

    It is about time that forum is  held on this subject. The CAP has been the main S and R organization which is part of the problem. The CAP which as said previously is an auxiliary of the Air Force has become too cumbersome with all the military regulations. This prevents greater participation in searches with the end result of delays in successful saves. Deleting of 90 % of the regulations would not result in an appreciable difference in safety margins for the pilots and greatly increase the saves
    drkd@aol:disqus .com  
    Captain Kevin D’Angelo
    NY Wing

    • Matt says

      I was a CAP member many years ago and reatively recently looked into joining up again. After a quick look at current reg’s and requiremnts I concluded that it wasn’t worth the effort. I’ll stick with leasure flying. My thanks to you guys who are sticking with the program.

  5. Truw says

    The Civil Air Patroll, the official auxillery of the US Air Force, is trained and equipped for this mission. Any civilian volunteer searchers would have to coordinate very closely with the CAP Incident Commander to prevent a very dangerous situation from occurring.

    Major T. C. Whiting, CAP
    Commander VA-088

  6. Arthur says

    In Nova Scotia Canada I got involved in a group of volunteers that offered S & R with their Cessna 172’s and other planes. They were airborne in minutes, could fly low and slow and although the airforce paid some of the costs involved it was the most affordable way offering S&R services.  I was involved in training and developing  the crews to divide the tasks on board every plane, pilot to fly the crate, navgato indicating checking the flight search pattern and 2 crew members to form the look out.  The results were amazing, a flight of 6 cessna’s formed an very efficient search machine.covering a wide area.

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