FCC Drops Proposal to Ban 121.5-MHz ELTs

Aircraft owners breathe sigh of relief.

Giving in to pressure from the FAA and pilots’ groups, the Federal Communications Commission has officially abandoned a plan to ban the sale, manufacture or use of emergency locator transmitter beacons that transmit on 121.5 MHz. The FCC last June issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that sought to outlaw the use of 121.5-MHz ELTs after the international shift to satellite monitoring of distress signals on 406 MHz. The FAA immediately objected to the FCC proposal, noting that the current supply of 406-MHz ELTs is insufficient to replace all existing 121.5-MHz ELTs. Because most general aviation aircraft are required to carry ELTs, a prohibition on 121.5-MHz units would effectively ground tens of thousands of GA aircraft.

The FCC in January agreed with the FAA’s position that 121.5 MHz ELTs can provide effective way of locating downed aircraft because many pilots and the Civil Air Patrol continue to monitor the frequency. With its most recent action, the FCC has withdrawn the proposal from the Federal Register. But the agency says it will seek further comment on the future of 121.5-MHz ELTs in a separate notice. Most other countries have already made the switch to 406-MHz ELT technology, and aviation observers believe it is only a matter of time before the FAA takes action to make the switch as well.