Senators to FCC: Drop 121.5 MHz ELT ban proposal

May 3, 2013

General aviation aircraft owners would spend an aggregate $500 million on dated technology under a revived Federal Communications Commission proposal to eliminate emergency locator transmitters that operate on 121.5 MHz, said five U.S. senators, led by Senate GA Caucus member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), in a letter to the agency’s chief.

“Should the FCC move forward with its proposed rule to ban the use or manufacture of 121.5 MHZ ELTs, the general aviation industry will be required to install $500 million of technology which could soon become obsolete once the FAA fully implements that satellite based navigation system authorized under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012,” the senators wrote to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The FCC should drop the proposal—reintroduced in January—as incompatible with FAA safety initiatives, the senators further wrote in a joint letter that reinforces AOPA’s position on the proposed rulemaking.

AOPA, in formal comments submitted in April, argued that the FCC’s proposed prohibition on “the certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or use of 121.5-MHz ELTs” would mandate installing 406 MHz ELTs despite the advance of technologies better suited to pilots’ individual operations.

Such a rule would deplete aircraft owners’ maintenance budgets, thereby reducing, not enhancing safety, AOPA said in the regulatory filing.

The senators said the proposed rule was a bad match for the FAA’s air traffic control system modernization program—regulatory turf that the FCC should leave alone.

In addition to Roberts, the letter was signed by four other members of the Senate GA Caucus, including Senate GA Caucus co-chair Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), and Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The senators registered their concern that the FCC was spending “limited government resources” on aviation safety matters “without first coordinating with the FAA.”

They called for the FCC to “immediately abandon” its pursuit of an ELT rule change and defer to the aviation agency on matters concerning the National Airspace System.

“When AOPA approached Senator Roberts with this issue, he was responsive and understood that the FAA’s role in handling this matter is paramount,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs. “We are appreciative of his effort in leading this important letter to limit unnecessary costs on AOPA’s membership.”

The FCC stayed a previous ELT rule change after AOPA and industry groups strongly opposed it.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.