Hundreds of bizjets without ELTs grounded

Aviation International News » February 2004
January 31, 2007, 10:51 AM

Business jet operators knew three years ago that they would have to be equipped with approved ELTs by January 1 this year or be grounded until the installation was made. Many operators apparently didn’t take this notice seriously (maybe counting on the FAA to delay compliance, as it has a history of doing) and waited until the last minute to make arrangements for the installation. Or they simply forgot about it. For whatever reason, the result is that about 600 U.S.-registered business jets, nearly 7 percent of the fleet, did not have an ELT installed when the deadline passed at midnight on New Year’s Eve, instantly rendering these aircraft inoperable by regulation.

Most of these remained grounded at press time waiting for manufacturers to deliver emergency locator transmitters–both 121.5-MHz and 406-MHz units–to avionics installation facilities, according to the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA). The manufacturers of ELTs also inadvertently contributed to the problem because they have had delays in obtaining components to complete assembly of their units.
Meanwhile, the FAA continues not to grant temporary exemptions, saying its hands are tied because it already received a compliance extension when Congress first ordered the requirement three years ago.

AIR-21 legislation gave the FAA the authority to require ELTs on business jets as soon as Jan. 1, 2002, but the agency got the OK to delay compliance to January 1 this year to give operators time to order 406- MHz ELTs instead of 121.5-MHz units. The 406-MHz units are considered more reliable than the 121.5-MHz units, and also emit a stronger signal that can be detected almost instantaneously by satellite, the FAA said. More important, in 2009, satellite-based monitoring of 121.5-MHz ELTs will terminate in favor of the 406-MHz ELTs.

Congress took action to require ELTs on business jets after a Learjet 35A crashed in IMC on approach to Lebanon Municipal Airport (LEB), N.H., on Christmas Eve in 1996 but wasn’t found until November 1999. The aircraft, which did not have an ELT, had crashed about seven miles from the airport.

Some operators speculate that the FAA is playing hardball with the ELT requirement as a warning to the industry to expect similar inflexibility to temporary exemption requests when the DRVSM compliance deadline hits on January 20 next year. Of course, in the latter situation, non-compliance technically won’t disallow an airplane from flying, as the ELT rule does.

Still, other operators point to the fact that the FAA allows airplanes to fly when their ELTs are temporarily removed. One grounded JetStar operator told AIN it’s “ludicrous” that while the new provision of FAR 91.207 is keeping nonequipped airplanes out of service, another provision in 91.207 allows aircraft that already have ELTs installed to operate up to 90 days if their ELT is removed for any reason.

When is an ELT ‘Installed?’
Advisory Circular 43-14 specifies the installation requirements for ELTs. The AC calls for a remote switch/monitor, external antenna, an ELT that meets TSO C91a or C126 and an installed location “as far aft as possible” and “mounted to primary structure.” AIN has learned that a fleet operator has mounted an ELT internally on the fuselage within reach of the pilot. There is no external antenna. But if the unit has the proper TSO and meets other specifications in the AC, then will the FAA be flexible and accept that installation? “I don’t think the FAA would have a problem with this,” said one trade organization official who along with other alphabet groups met with FAA officials in Washington a couple of weeks before the deadline to discuss the delay problem.

These FAA officials were “pretty understanding when we were looking for ways to minimize the effect of the requirement on aircraft that failed to meet the deadline,” said the trade group representative. “They were really trying to think outside of the box.” Operators know from experience, however, that determination of regulatory compliance is usually done at the field level, and interpretation of regulations and advisories typically differs from one FSDO to another.

The JetStar operator referenced earlier had requested a temporary exemption on the basis of his “good faith” effort in showing his local FSDO that he had contracted for a 406-MHz ELT installation on November 3, and had the avionics shops install the appropriate wiring and antenna, which is matched to a specific ELT. But on December 17 he was advised by the installation center that the ELT manufacturer could not supply a product until late last month or early this month.

Most grounded operators apparently do not want to install 121.5- MHz units now and have to go through the expense and downtime of re-installing a 406-MHz unit later. Both types require different types of antenna, among other installation differences. The official at AEA told AIN that the availability of 121.5-MHz units is running about 10 days ahead of 406-MHz units. In addition, there are 121.5-MHz units on the market that can be upgraded to 406-MHz capability without replacing the unit itself or changing antennas.

For international operators, there is a near-term reason to equip with 406-MHz units. Under JAA requirements and ICAO standards, by Jan. 1, 2005, most large airplanes operating internationally must be equipped with an emergency locator transmitter that broadcasts its signals on 406 MHz. Under JAR OPS 1.820 and ICAO Annex 6 and Annex 10, an ELT that transmits on both 121.5 MHz and 406 MHz simultaneously or one 406-MHz unit meets the requirement. In some circumstances, two ELTs per aircraft will be required.

If you install a 406-MHz ELT or buy an aircraft with one already installed, remember that it must be registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Immediate registration and updating can be done online at www.sarsat.noaa.gov. Upon registration, you will receive a 15-digit unique ID code. Note that you are required to re-register the beacon every two years.   

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