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Why do some planes in Canada lack potentially life-saving emergency beacons?

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More than half of the 27,000 civil aircraft in Canada aren’t equipped with a modern device that could save lives by allowing search and rescue crews to more easily find potential crash survivors, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.  

Modern emergency locator transmitters, or ELTs, emit radio distress calls that can be picked up by satellites, but many small, private and recreational aircraft use older technology that’s of little use to rescuers if a plane goes down, because the signal is unlikely to be picked up. 

Steven Lett is head of the Cospas-Sarsat Secretariat, the international organization that runs a satellite-based search and rescue system. (Submitted by Steven Lett)

“There’s no way to tell where it’s coming from, no way to tell the identity of the source,” said Steve Lett, head of the Cospas-Sarsat Secretariat, the international organization that runs the satellite-based search and rescue system.   

“It relies on the luck of having another aircraft possibly flying nearby and that aircraft having its receiver tuned to 121.5 MHz, and also that aircraft not assuming that it’s some sort of a test.”   

Search and rescue satellites no longer pick up the 121.5 MHz distress signal, which isn’t a problem for large commercial airplanes most Canadians use to travel because they use up-to-date ELTs.

Those systems are designed to go off when a plane crashes, sending a signal to orbiting satellites that is relayed to a mission control centre. Local search and rescue crews are then advised where they can find the crash site. 

“Private aircraft, general aviation aircraft, they are not as closely supervised. They tend to crash much more frequently and yet governments … the Canadian and U.S. governments included, continue to allow them to fly with only a 121.5 MHz ELT,” said Lett, whose organization stopped monitoring the 121.5 MHz frequency in 2009.

Search and rescue technicians rely on ELTs to find aircraft that have crashed. (JTFA/Twitter)

The older distress signals weren’t accurate, so Cospas-Sarsat began monitoring ELTs that emit a 406 MHz radio signal instead. Those signals are digital and capable of providing more accurate location information and even the identity of the aircraft.

But in Canada, it is not mandatory for planes to have a 406 MHz ELT.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada determined in 2016 there were approximately 27,000 aircraft registered in Canada that required an ELT, but only 10,086 equipped with a 406 MHz ELT. 

Larger commercial planes already have 406 MHz ELTs installed. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

That year, the board recommended that Transport Canada make 406 MHz ELTs mandatory.

Transport Canada accepted the recommendations, but so far, no regulations have changed, said Daryl Collins, a senior investigator with the board.

Transport Canada declined to be interviewed, but said it continually explores ways of updating safety requirements. 

This diagram outlines how what happens after an emergency signal is transmitted. (Cospas-Sarsat)

Since the new ELTs aren’t mandatory, pilots are less willing to adopt them and many don’t trust the transmitters will work in an emergency, said Bernard Gervais, president and CEO of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association.  

The association has 16,000 members across the country who fly everything from recreational and personal aircraft to private and business planes. 

Bernard Gervais of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association says pilots don’t care about the cost of installing a new ELT, which can run between $650 and $750, plus installation. It’s the reliability of the devices that most pilots question, he says. (Jean-Pierre/flickr.com/djipibi)

Gervais said ELTs, new or old, have a spotty track record of activating when they’re supposed to. 

“Right now it’s just an iffy thing. Like I’d be down there, stuck in the airplane with broken legs, and I would think I’ve got a 60 per cent chance that this thing went off and that would be it. It’s not reassuring to know that.”  

Bernard Gervais, president and CEO of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, Gervais says ELTs, new or old, have a spotty track record of activating when they’re supposed to. (Submitted by Bernard Gervais)

A number of things can cause an ELT to fail. A broken antenna, a fire, being submerged in water, and even mountains or thick forests can interfere with its radio signal.  

Also, if a plane strikes the ground so hard that it breaks up into pieces, it’s unlikely the ELT would be intact enough to produce a signal.

The TSB said its research shows ELT signals aren’t picked up in 30 to 40 per cent of crashes, often because the equipment was damaged in some way. That’s why the board also recommended to Transport Canada that work be done to change the design of ELTs to improve their functionality after a crash. 

In Canada last year, there were 58 reported activations of 406 MHz ELTs during accidents. In 17 of those, the ELT was the only way search and rescue crews knew that an aircraft had gone down.

Lt.-Col. Jonathan Nelles, senior staff officer with search and rescue at 1 Canadian Air Division with the Armed Forces, said their analysis shows ELTs are 85 to 90 per cent effective in alerting search and rescue workers to an aircraft in distress.

The antenna of this ELT broke when an air ambulance flight crashed in Ontario in May 2013. The broken antenna was enough to prevent its signal from reaching search and rescue crews. (Transportation Safety Board )

In this section of the air ambulance that crashed in 2013, only the base of the ELT’s antenna remains. The rest of the ELT was working, but it couldn’t transmit its message because of the damage. (Transportation Safety Board)

Without an ELT, rescue crews searching for the wreckage of an aircraft have a hard road ahead of them.

“Not having a good idea of a precise location makes it challenging because some aircraft itineraries and routes are over hundreds of miles, and that results in a long, laborious search across all sorts of terrain and in all sorts of conditions,” he said.

Lett admits the 406 MHz ELT isn’t perfect technology, but said that shouldn’t keep a pilot from upgrading a plane’s antiquated distress system.

“From a common sense standpoint, it seems that if someone cares about their life and the life of their loved one, they’d want to make sure they had this relatively inexpensive insurance policy in case something went wrong with their plane.”

Lt.-Col. Jonathan Nelles, senior staff officer with search and rescue at 1 Canadian Air Division with the Armed Forces, says ELTs are essential in helping search and rescue workers narrow down where to search for survivors of a crash. (JTFA/Twitter)

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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