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FCC Wants To Phase Out 121.5 ELTs

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The FCC says it wants to get on with the process of phasing out 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters and anyone with comments or concerns has until April 1 to make them known. On Jan. 7 the commission issued its third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF) on the topic, calling for an end to the import, manufacture or sale of 121.5 ELTs a year after the rule becomes effective. In 2009, the FCC amended its rules to ban the ELTs immediately. Since ELTs are required equipment, that would have left hundreds of thousands of aircraft owners with illegal devices on their aircraft. After hearing from the FAA and various groups about the impracticality of such a move, the FCC backed off. The phased approach appears to be causing little concern among the groups or authorities.

Many organizations, including the Civil Air Patrol and Coast Guard, are strongly in favor of the elimination of 121.5 ELTs. Search and rescue satellites stopped listening for 121.5 signals in 2009 and now the only way to detect one is from airborne or ground-based radio receivers. The receipt of a 121.5 signal triggers a search even though most are the result of accidental triggering. New 406 MHz ELTs embed contact information for the aircraft owner in their signals and authorities can usually verify if there is a true emergency by phone.

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