Could a Personal Locator Beacon or EPIRB carried by a passenger aid in locating a downed airliner?

egid
  • Could a Personal Locator Beacon or EPIRB carried by a passenger aid in locating a downed airliner? egid

    There've been a lot of questions lately about tracking aircraft, and after a conversation with a friend of a friend I started wondering:

    Could a PLB or EPIRB carried by a passenger or crew member aid in locating a downed or missing airliner? There are a dozen or so brands out there, most using similar technology, like this ACR ARTEX unit:

    ResQLink PLB with GPS

    Now, I'm well aware of the FAA and FCC regulations about electronic devices in flight, and that's not what I'm interested in. I also realize that airliners already carry an ELT.

    If a paranoid passenger brought one on board, would these devices function at all from inside an airliner cabin? Some feed GPS location data to a 406MHz locator beacon, and those would potentially be less useful (as they'd have to be at hand and probably triggered manually. Others, like the Spot GPS tracker, have the ability to upload GPS track data on the fly to satellite communications networks such as Iridium.

    I'm personally skeptical, given that GPS generally needs a clear view of the sky and that a fuselage seems likely to block or reduce a 406Mhz ELT signal, but I'm curious to know if there's any information out there.

  • No, they couldn't. EPIRB beacons have a very short range, by the time you get a signal you'd also have a signal from the beacons in for example the flight data recorder.
    You seem (like a lot of people) under the impression that GPS receivers send their location to the satellite which then sends it somewhere to a data center where it can be retrieved. This is incorrect. The device only reads from the satellite network, calculating its position based on signals from the satellites. And it then uses either a short range radio transmitter or a cellphone network to transmit that location to interested parties. But of course in the middle of nowhere there are no cellphone towers and a short range radio doesn't help if the nearest recipient is far away.
    On a ski slope that's no problem, as you're in civilisation and not far from help. In the middle of the ocean it's of no use whatsoever.

  • I have a SPOT Beacon that I use for occasional adventures: mostly flying small planes and kayaking. But its small enough I generally carry it with me when I fly commercial.

    Spot Becaon

    Because it connects to satellites, no one needs to be nearby to "hear" it. I can press the SOS button most anyplace in the world and summon help.

    There are some remote parts of the ocean where there is not good satellite coverage, (see the coverage map), but generally it may help in an emergency.

    I don't know if such a device would work from inside a commercial airliner. I do know I've been able to get GPS signals by pressing a GPS receiver up against a cabin window, but it is slow to acquire the GPS lock. I don't know if it could transmit to the satellite network through the cabin window.

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