International ELT mandates loom

 - February 6, 2007, 4:26 AM

Have you installed your 406-MHz emergency locator transmitter (ELT) yet? If trips to international destinations are in your plans, the sarsat units are must-have equipment after January 1.

Any business jet operator who plans to fly internationally after the first of the year should be finished by now installing two ELTs that transmit on 406 MHz, at least one of which is automatic. That’s because under a JAA requirement and separate ICAO standard, most large civil airplanes must be equipped with ELTs that transmit on 121.5 MHz and 406 MHz simultaneously–or with one automatic 406-MHz unit–when operating on long over-water flights and two ELTs in Europe, Russia and elsewhere.

If you installed an ELT that transmits on 121.5 MHz to meet FAA requirements but the unit does not transmit on 406-MHz, flying internationally will be a lot tougher thanks to the new requirements for dual-frequency emergency locator transmitters in many parts of the world, particularly Europe and Russia.

It is unclear how many operators of affected business aircraft have completed installation of 406-MHz ELTs, but industry experts report there is still considerable confusion about precisely what type of equipment is required in which parts of the world.

In January this year all U.S.-registered business jets were required to carry an ELT, but the rules did not specify what type of unit had to be installed. The international group that monitors ELT distress frequencies will continue checking the long-used 121.5-MHz frequency (and 243 MHz) until 2009, at which point 406 MHz becomes the new international standard and 121.5-MHz units will be rendered obsolete.
That means business jet operators who have installed 121.5-MHz ELTs can continue flying without any problem in the U.S. for the next four years, but they still must upgrade to the new 406-MHz units now if they want to fly to Europe, Russia and certain other countries.

International ELT Requirements
The operational requirement is spelled out in ICAO Annex 6 and the technical ELT requirements are detailed in Annex 10. Specifically, the rule requires at least one automatic 406-MHz ELT on single- or multi-engine private aircraft (two on commercial aircraft) flying on “long- range over-water operations” and flights “over designated land areas.” The definitions of these two terms are the basis for the requirement.

ICAO defines “long-range over-water operations” as being away from “land suitable for making an emergency landing at a distance of more than 100 nautical miles in the case of a single-engine airplane and more than 200 nautical miles in the case of a multi-engine airplane capable of continuing flight with one engine inoperative.”

Designated land areas are those that “have been designated by the state concerned as areas in which search-and-rescue would be especially difficult,” according to ICAO.
While most U.S. business jet operators are primarily concerned with the ELT requirements for Europe, other countries are adopting similar rules. Russia, for example, issued its own ELT requirement in August specifying that all aircraft operating within the country’s borders carry dual-frequency ELTs capable of transmitting on 121.5 and 406 MHz.

“Russia’s regulation is pretty much a copy of the ICAO recommendation,” said Philip Male, worldwide sales manager for Elta, an ELT manufacturer based in France. Male said U.S. operators in some cases have been baffled by the new ELT rules, especially regarding operations inside Russia.

“It is surprising how few corporate operators in the U.S. are aware yet that if they have only 121.5-MHz ELTs they will not be able to fly in Russian airspace,” Male said.
At this time last year, hundreds of business jets faced forced groundings because of the mandate to carry ELTs in the U.S.