Alaska Integrates GPS In Search And Rescue

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A test program in Alaska to integrate the consumer tracking devices Spot and Spidertracks with FAA search-and-rescue has been successful, officials said last week. The Enhanced Special Reporting Service was tested for two years and now has been made an official option for all pilots flying VFR in Alaska. The technology could be a lifesaver in Alaska's remote terrain. "For example," FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer told the Alaska Dispatch, "if a pilot leaves Anchorage for Nome in a Cessna 172, it's about a four-and-a-half-hour flight. Typically, the search would begin for the overdue pilot 30 minutes after they were to have arrived. With this technology, the search would begin when the plane stops moving and will more closely pinpoint the aircraft's location." The program is available only for VFR flights within Alaska, but it may be expanded in the future, the FAA said.

Pilots must register their device with Flight Service and file a flight plan, and they must program the devices to alert the FAA in case of an emergency. The use of ESRS does not eliminate the need to have an emergency locator transmitter on board an aircraft, the FAA said. If maintenance failures or other system problems prevent alert messages from being transmitted to FSS, search-and-rescue for overdue aircraft will be based on the VFR Flight Plan. More information can be found at the FAA FAQ (PDF) and the project website. AOPA and the Alaska Airmen's Association worked closely with the FAA on the test program.