Answers For Pilots: 406 MHz ELTs

Answering the equipage questions

December 1, 2008

No doubt you’ve read about the changeover from 121.5 MHz to 406 MHz emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) that is effective February 1, 2009. But what, exactly, is changing? The international search-and-rescue satellite system, known as Cospas-Sarsat, will stop monitoring 121.5 MHz ELTs on that date, although 121.5 ELT signals will be still be detected by receivers including local airports, air traffic control, and overflying aircraft. Equipage requirements vary from country to country—here are the details.

Flying in the United States

An installed ELT—either 121.5 MHz or 406 MHz—will continue to be required in each aircraft flying in the United States after February 1. AOPA has been effective in preventing an FAA mandate for equipping with a 406, so if your aircraft has a 121.5 ELT, the decision on whether to upgrade lies with you, the aircraft owner. Your decision should be based on where and when you fly, and what other survival equipment you carry (cell phone, personal locator beacon). A basic 406 MHz ELT costs about $900 and increases with the level of sophistication and cost of installation in the aircraft. Because of the expense, AOPA is recommending more affordable ELT alternatives.

International flying

You must comply with the regulations of our neighboring countries if you want to fly across the border. The Bahamas/Caribbean, Canada, and Mexico differ on the issue of ELT equipage.

The Bahamas and the Caribbean conform to the existing ICAO standards, which went into effect on July 1, 2008, and mandated equipage with a 406-MHz ELT that has a technical standard order (TSO) authorization and which met the ICAO Annex 10 requirement. Portable TSO-authorized 406-MHz ELTs do meet the ICAO requirement, but currently, there is only one qualifying portable ELT on the market.

Canada is proposing a 406 MHz ELT requirement similar to ICAO’s with a compliance date of February 1, 2009. Under the proposal, any aircraft, regardless of the country of registry, would need to have a 406-MHz ELT installed in order to enter Canadian airspace—and they will not allow portable 406-MHz ELTs or personal locator beacons (PLBs) to be used instead of a panel-installed unit.

Mexican officials offer an alternative to panel installation for U.S. aircraft operating in Mexico. They have indicated that a U.S. aircraft using an automatic portable 406-MHz ELT that has a TSO authorization could meet the requirements of the regulation. Mexican rules are scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2009.

Still have questions? Check AOPA’s Web site for the latest information (, or call the Pilot Information Center at 800-872-2672.

Membership Q&A

Q: I’d like to give an AOPA membership as a gift to a friend. Can I do that?

A: Giving a friend or relative a membership in AOPA provides them with information and tools that help them fly safely and get more enjoyment out of flying. Your gift recipient will receive a special gift card announcing your gift and an AOPA pilot’s cap. Use our convenient online form ( or call Member Services to help someone special celebrate the holidays or any special event.

Q: I’d like to make a charitable donation that I could use as a tax deduction for 2008 that would benefit general aviation. Any recommendations?

A: One option would be to establish a charitable gift annuity as a member of the AOPA Legacy Society, or choose from a wide variety of giving options that benefit the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. More information on the AOPA Legacy Society can be found online and donation options for the Air Safety Foundation can be found online.

Q: Where can I buy an AOPA shirt or other merchandise with the AOPA logo?

A: You can order a wide variety of AOPA insignia products from Sporty’s Pilot Shop. They’ve got great-looking clothing, hats, and other useful merchandise such as coffee mugs and ID wallets with the AOPA logo. And you can earn double points on your purchase when you use your AOPA WorldPoints Rewards card. Browse the AOPA Collection online ( or call 800-SPORTYS (776-7897) to request a catalog.

Member Services contact information:

Phone: 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672), 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Eastern time) Monday through Friday
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Kathy Dondzila

Kathy Dondzila | Manager, Technical Communications, Pilot Information Center

Technical Communications Manager, Kathy Dondzila, joined AOPA in 1990 and is an instrument-rated private pilot.