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406 ELTs Mandatory By 2022?

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The White House, with the apparent blessing of the FAA, is urging the FCC to make 406 ELT equipage in aircraft mandatory by 2022. In comments filed with the FCC on Feb. 5 (PDF), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recommended the FCC get moving on its plan to eliminate 121.5 MHz-only ELTs but to give aircraft owners up to eight years to make the transition. The NTIA, which represents the executive branch's view on telecommunications policy, said it consulted with the FAA and the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking program (SARSAT) in making the recommendation. The filing of the document may mean the FCC is getting ready to implement a final rule on the disposition of 121.5 MHz ELTs, a process it started in 2010 with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that caught most aviation organizations, including the FAA, by surprise.

That NPRM called for the immediate outlawing of 121.5-only ELTs and would have grounded tens of thousands of aircraft. The FAA recommended the FCC take a breath and aviation organizations added their concerns. The FCC eventually stayed the rule but kept it on the table. At the time, AOPA asked that the NPRM be scrapped because of the cost to aircraft owners (estimated then at $300 million) but NTIA says the benefit to safety and more efficient searches afforded by the use of 406 MHz ELTs outweighs those costs and the costs are more likely in the $150 million range, or less than $1,000 per airplane. The FCC's third attempt at the NPRM was issued a year ago and comments closed last March. Among the other recommendations is that the FCC stop certifying new 121.5-only ELTs (something the FAA has already done), that the sale of 121.5 ELTs be stopped within a year of the rule being enacted and that the import of 121.5-only ELTs be stopped immediately.

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