FCC publishes stay of 121.5 MHz ELT ban

March 30, 2011

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has published the formal notice of its stay of an order that would have prohibited the certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or use of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters (ELTs).

The FCC announced in January that it would stay the rule, which, if enacted, would have mandated replacement of 121.5 MHz ELTs with 406 MHz ELTs, the cost to be borne by aircraft owners. AOPA, other aviation groups, and the FAA had pointed out the rule’s potential for creating a shortage of 406 MHz ELTs, possibly leading to the grounding of many aircraft until units became available. Approving the rule would have been “impractical and unwise,” and based on a mistaken notion that 121.5 MHz ELTs were obsolete, AOPA said.

The decision to stay the rule demonstrated that “a coordinated effort from the aviation community can effect change and prevent a harmful proposal from becoming law,” said AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rob Hackman when the FCC announced its decision. He credited both the FAA’s participation and the FCC’s receptiveness to input for the outcome.

The March 29 Federal Register notice confirms that the stay of the order will remain in effect indefinitely.

The FCC said it will revisit the question of the appropriate regulatory treatment of 121.5 MHz ELTs after receiving additional public comment on the question. The notice said that input received to date indicated that it would “serve the public interest to augment the record on this issue by providing an additional opportunity for public comment.”

The FCC will request further public comment through a separate Federal Register notice, it said.

AOPA recognizes the benefits offered by advanced ELTs, but believes that those considerations must be balanced against cost and the needs of individual aircraft owners, making installation of advanced ELTs an individual and voluntary decision.

The FAA agreed, asserting in comments that 121.5 MHz ELTs continue to provide a beneficial means of locating missing aircraft—even without satellite monitoring of frequency 121.5 MHz—because the frequency is still monitored by the Civil Air Patrol and other members of the search and rescue community.

AOPA credited Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) with being integral to the success of the bid to stay the rule. She urged the FCC to reach out to the industry and pilots during the rulemaking process, supporting AOPA’s position that the FAA possessed expertise on the ELT question that was lacked by the FCC when evaluating ELT capabilities and technology.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.