Phaseout of 121.5-MHz ELTs Appears Likely

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comments by April 1 on a plan to phase out 121.5-MHz emergency locator transmitters in favor of new satellite-based technology. This time it looks like the FCC could get its wish.

The proposal is really nothing new considering the FCC has been seeking a ban on the manufacture, sale and use of 121.5-MHz ELTs for several years. The difference this time is that opposition to the plan appears to be waning as more parts of the world are requiring the new 406-MHz ELTs and more aircraft owners are upgrading to the technology.

The international Cospas-Sarsat satellite system stopped processing signals from the 121.5-MHz frequency in 2009, and the FAA followed up by prohibiting the development of new units that rely on the frequency. But the agency has yet to ban their continued production nor has it required aircraft owners to equip with 406-MHz ELTs.

That could be about to change. Around 180,000 general aviation aircraft still carry 121.5-MHz ELTs, but signals from those transmitters can only be processed by ground-based receivers or aircraft flying overhead. The next logical step, as the FCC sees it, is a total ban on the use of 121.5 ELTs.

The FCC wants to provide a one-year grandfather period to “enable manufacturers, importers and distributors of 121.5-MHz ELTs to largely avoid any significant economic burden associated with stranded inventory.” After that, the FCC would select a specific date to “prohibit the continued use of 121.5-MHz ELTs in service.”

The Aircraft Electronics Association has said it sees no reason for the manufacture of “obsolete” 121.5-MHz ELT technology. AOPA, meanwhile, has called the FCC’s latest action on ELTs a “measured approach.”

To submit your comments on the proposal, visit the FCC's electronic comment filing website.

UPDATE: After we published our story online, the Experimental Aircraft Association contacted Flying to tell us it wants to stop a mandated transition from 121.5 MHz to 406 MHz ELTs and is "working to oppose this sweeping and veiled proposal." EAA is also encouraging its members, when the need arises, to replace their 121.5-MHz ELTs with 406-MHz or multiband units.


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