When a beacon is activated, either manually by the pilot, crew member, or automatically upon impact, it emits a signal for 24 hours that the Cospas-Sarsat satellites pick up immediately. The alert is then transmitted to a ground control centre, which can, in turn, notify the relevant emergency services.
At the French National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), around fifty of the sector’s world experts recently met to study various improvements to the activation of these beacons.
Philippe Plantin de Hugues, International and Regulatory Actions - Bureau of Investigations and Analyses :
"We are looking at an automatic activation of these beacons in flight, according to a number of criteria relating to, for example, the altitude of the aircraft. In fact there would be a real-time analysis of certain flight parameters, and depending on the evolution of these parameters, the beacon would receive a signal and send a position to the ground stations."
A new generation of more connected and more shock-resistant aeronautical beacons, will come onto the market soon. In 2018, all the Galileo satellites will be operational. Equipped with specific search and rescue instruments, they will further improve the localisation of airliners in difficulties.
Eric Luvisutto, Head Location Search & Rescue - National Centre for Space Studies :
"The purpose of having these instruments on satellites such as Galileo, or later, on G.P.S., will be to have an instantaneous beacon detection like with the current system, and also an instant localisation taking into account the global coverage of these systems."
Since its inception, the Cospas-Sarsat beacon system has helped in the rescue of more than 8,500 passengers and crew. The new standards currently under development are expected to do even better, and could come into effect within the next two years.