August 20, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
AOPA has strenuously opposed the Federal Communications Commission’s on-and-off effort to prohibit the certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or use of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters. Now the Department of Transportation has weighed in, taking the position in a regulatory filing that 121.5 MHz ELTs "continue to provide a beneficial means of locating missing aircraft in critical emergency situations and that a prohibition of their use should not be imposed by regulation."
"The DOT’s response supports our position," said Robert Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "AOPA has continuously and rigorously opposed a ban on 121.5 MHz ELTs, which the FAA estimated would have a $500 million impact on aircraft owners if they were forced to re-equip."
AOPA submitted formal comments April 1 on the FCC’s proposal, describing it as a mandate for aircraft owners to switch over to 406 MHz ELTs despite the continued functionality of 121.5 MHz equipment—and despite the emergence of new technologies better suited to pilots’ individual needs. The FAA has also stated in official proceedings that voluntary decisions about equipping, and new technologies "best address" pilots’ needs.
AOPA believes that the FCC had already decided to ban 121.5 MHz ELTs regardless of the effect on aviation safety when it published its notice of the proposed action. AOPA has urged the FCC in strongest terms to defer to the FAA on matters of aviation regulation, and to immediately abandon its effort.
The DOT, in its Aug. 5 letter, acknowledged that 406 MHz ELTs represent a technological advance over 121.5-MHz-only equipment, but noted that federal statute language reflects "Congress's unequivocal intent to permit the use of 121.5 ELTs in civil aircraft."
Further, although costs of equipping may have declined since the FAA conducted a study that produced the $500 million estimate, "we conclude that the cost to the general aviation community of a mandatory retrofit would still be significant," wrote DOT Acting General Counsel Kathryn B. Thomson.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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