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Senators to FCC: Drop 121.5 MHz ELT ban proposalSenators to FCC: Drop 121.5 MHz ELT ban proposal

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.

Graves demands answers on protecting 121.5 MHz ELTs

By AOPA ePublishing staff

During a House Small Business Committee hearing to review regulations on May 8, Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), an AOPA member and co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus, demanded answers on the FAA’s response and planned actions to the Federal Communication Commission’s plan to ban the “the certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or use of 121.5-MHz ELTs.” Such a regulation would force pilots to equip with 406 MHz emergency locator transmitters.

“You have hundreds of thousands of aircraft out there with this equipment in there and now being required to buy new equipment, which is going to cost millions and millions of dollars to the industry and to a lot of small businesses out there,” Graves said.

“I want to know if the FAA, Department of Transportation is going to oppose the FCC’s rule because it is going to be extraordinarily burdensome, and these are small businesses and this equipment is very expensive.”

When he pressed Under Secretary for Transportation for Policy Polly Trottenberg for a timeline on getting answers, she promised to get them to Graves and his staff by the end of the week (May 10).

Efforts have been under way to ban 121.5 MHz ELTs since satellites stopped monitoring the signal in 2009. However, Graves explained, general aviation and airline pilots monitor the frequency whenever they fly in order to pick up any distress signals. It is estimated that a mandate to switch to the 406 MHz would cost the general aviation industry $500 million.

AOPA opposes any mandate that would force pilots to equip with a single kind of technology and maintains that pilots should be allowed to equip their aircraft based on the type of flying they do. They also should be able to use other types of emergency equipment, including personal locator beacons, cellphones with GPS tracking, and other devices.

“We appreciate Chairman Graves raising this issue with the Under Secretary to measure the Department of Transportation’s temperature on the FCC’s proposed ban of ELTs, as well as his insistence that replacing equipment is burdensome,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs. “Congressman Graves brings real-world experience to these questions that are important to AOPA members and his fellow pilots. His persistence is genuine.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Aviation Industry, Communication

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