FCC likely to modify its proposed 121.5-MHz ELT ban

 - September 30, 2010, 7:19 AM

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is said to be close to responding to an FAA request that it withdraw a June notice that seeks to impose a total ban on the “certification, manufacture, importation, sale or continued use” of 121.5-MHz emergency locator transmitters.

FAA regulations require U.S.-registered aircraft to carry fixed emergency locator transmitters, but the rules don’t specify whether they should operate on 121.5 or 406 MHz. Although satellites have not listened for 121.5-MHz signals since February 1 last year, the frequency is still monitored by ATC, the military and other pilots and many 406-MHz ELTs also broadcast distress signals on 121.5 MHz.

The FAA in July sent a letter to the FCC asking that the agency not publish the ELT notice in the Federal Register, citing a study of the safety impact and cost-benefit analysis of requiring all aircraft to switch from 121.5-MHz ELTs to 406-MHz ELTs. The cost to equip more than 200,000 aircraft would be close to $500 million, the FAA said, adding that fewer than 40,000 of the 406-MHz ELTs have been voluntarily installed on aircraft.

“Based on the cost of replacing 121.5-MHz ELTs with 406-MHz ELTs, the rate of voluntary equipage by aircraft owners and operators with 406-MHz ELTs, and the use of [position-indicating radio beacons] by pilots, the FAA has not sought authority from Congress to require the replacement of 121.5-MHz ELTs with 406-MHz ELTs,” the FAA said in its letter.

The agency also noted that it held the same view after the NTSB recommended that it seek Congressional authority to mandate aircraft be equipped with 406-MHz ELTs.
“The ability of the aviation industry to continue the manufacture, importation, sale and use of 121.5-MHz emergency locator transmitters is of utmost importance to the aviation community,” the FAA said.

Sources with knowledge of the situation said it appears likely that the FCC will continue to seek a ban on the manufacture and sale of new 121.5-MHz ELTs but will not pursue banning their continued use in aircraft.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said it is “aggressively pursuing all options” to block the rule’s adoption, warning of serious economic and operational consequences for thousands of aircraft in the general aviation fleet that still carry 121.5-MHz ELTs.

The FCC noted that the proposed ruling would not affect TSO C126 ELTs, which transmit distress signals on both 406 MHz and 121.5 MHz.