As of February 1, 2009, the international COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system discontinued satellite-based monitoring of the 121.5/243-MHz frequencies, in part because of a high number of false signals attributed with these frequencies. While there's no requirement in the United States to replace the first- and second-generation 121.5-MHz ELTs, since that date, 121.5/243-MHz distress signals transmitted from ELTs operating on the lower frequency are only detected by ground-based receivers such as local airport facilities and air traffic control facilities or by overflying aircraft. It is important to note that existing 121.5-MHz ELTs, although still legal from the FAA's perspective, provide very limited assistance if an aircraft crashes, especially in a remote location.
AOPA opposes any attempt to mandate or otherwise require the replacement of existing 121.5/243-MHz ELTs with 406-MHz units. AOPA recognizes the benefits that can be derived from the advanced ELTs available today. However, the benefits of advanced ELTs must be balanced against cost and the needs of the individual aircraft owner. AOPA supports the installation of these more advanced ELTs on a voluntary basis.
As always, feel free to call AOPA's Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA with questions.
ELTs are emergency transmitters that are carried aboard most general aviation aircraft in the U.S. In the event of an aircraft accident, these devices are designed to transmit a distress signal on 121.5, 243.0-megahertz frequencies (and for newer ELTs, on 406 MHz). Currently, ELTs are required to be installed in almost all U.S.-registered civil aircraft, including general aviation aircraft, as a result of a congressional mandate. The ELT hibernates in the tailcone of most general aviation aircraft. The danger of its "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" location is the possibility of missing an inspection that may alert the pilot of a potential malfunction.
Although most general aviation aircraft must have an attached operable emergency ELT, aircraft engaged in training operations conducted entirely within 50 nm of the departure airport are a notable exceptions. Other exceptions applicable to Part 91 operations are single-seat aircraft, flight testing, aerial applications, and ferrying flights. FAR Part 91.207(e) and (f) lists all exceptions.
ELTs must be inspected once every 12 calendar months for:
The batteries must be replaced or recharged:
Pilots generally realize that an aircraft can be operated for up to 90 days with the ELT removed if a placard is displayed. We still see some violations in this area because of the following:
Concerning ELT maintenance endorsements, battery life, and pilot-in-command responsibility:
FCC Publishes Stay of 121.5 MHz ELT Ban
Issue Brief: Emergency Locator Transmitters
ELT, Phone Home
Answers For Pilots: 406 MHz ELTs
406-MHz ELTs not required for flights to Canada, for now
Regulatory Brief: ELT’s
Answers for Pilots: Emergency locator transmitters
Help might be on the way
AOPA Pilot, April 2007
Airframe & Powerplant: Getting a Better Signal
Why a new ELT may be a good investment
AOPA Pilot, January 2005
ACR Electronics GyPSI 406 personal locator beacon
AOPA Pilot, September 2003
AOPA News Brief
AOPA counters new attempt to mandate $2,500 ELTs
Search and Rescue
Lessons learned in the wake of disaster
AOPA Flight Training, September 1998
AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.