There’s been a lot of ruckus in the GA community about the latest directive from the FCC which intends to ban the use of Emergency Locating Transmitters (ELT) that transmit the 121.5 frequency. Most ELT’s fit this category and to this point, are mandatory equipment in every airplane. The ELT sends out a beacon after aircraft impact or can be manually activated.
The FCC’s change to 47 CFR Part 87 would outlaw the use of the former—effectively forcing general aviation aircraft owners to buy the 406 MHz ELT. The rule would go into effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. AOPA is aggressively pursuing all options to have the FCC and FAA delay and re-evaluate the rule, highlighting the economic and operational impact to the more than 220,000 aircraft in the GA fleet, most of whom still carry the 121.5 MHz ELTs.
The cost to install the newer 406 frequency ELT is around $1,500 and there is not enough time or new equipment to comply within 60 days. True to form neither the FAA nor the FCC seem to be talking to each other so there’s plenty of confusion.
There are two sides to this coin. The newer technology allows for satellite location of a downed aircraft (presuming the ELT wasn’t disabled or destroyed in the crash). The 121.5 MHZ satellite coverage was discontinued last year due to the abundance of expensive false alarms. The satellite networks that now detect 406 MHZ ELT beacon signals consists of both polar-orbiting satellite and geostationary satellite arrays The newer 406 signal is almost instantaneous since it’s not necessary for the multiple polar orbiting passes to determine position. Fast is good. However, once the 121.5 ELT’s are eliminated, there is no way for a downed aircraft to be located by civil air patrol (CAP) flights which attempt to locate a plane by homing on the audible signal using available radio equipment. General aviation aircraft radios can’t monitor the new frequency. Hopefully the EAA and AOPA will coordinate with the FCC and FAA. That’s plenty of alphabet soup to get us started.
With lack of government coordination, what we got here is a failure to communicate.