The Federal Communications Commission took the general aviation world by surprise when it said in a recent report it will prohibit the sale or use of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters and require the use of 406 MHz units, a rule that could take effect as soon as August. Most of the 220,000 or so GA aircraft in the U.S. still use the 121.5 ELTs, which are allowed by the FAA. The FCC rule doesn’t take effect until 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, and AOPA says they hope to work things out with the FCC before that publication takes place. Nonetheless, AOPA’s Rob Hackman said, “At this time, we caution anyone against purchasing a new ELT until this issue is resolved. There’s a lot of misunderstanding at this time as to the status of this rule.” On Wednesday, the Aircraft Electronics Association said the FCC has clarified that the rule is targeting legacy TSO C91a ELTs, which operate primarily on 121.5 MHz, not the general use of frequency 121.5 MHz as the rule implies. “Current TSO C126 ELTs are not affected by this ruling,” the AEA said. The FAA also appeared to be surprised by the FCC rulemaking.’ We are discussing this with FCC. We have stated that their order is inconsistent with the FAA’s rule,” FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette told AVweb.
FCC spokesman Matt Nodine told AVweb on Wednesday he doesn’t have a date for the rule’s publication, but when asked if the agency would be open to further discussion on the matter of ELTs, he said “We’ve already been open to discussion.” A notice about the proposed changes was posted on the FCC Web site and disseminated as an NPRM, and public comment was invited, he said. The rule changes have been in the works for several years. “We’ve gone through multiple [comment] cycles already,” Nodine said. The 121.5 ELTs are no longer monitored by satellite, but the frequency is watched by other aircraft, air traffic control, and the military. The FCC notice says, “Were we to permit continued marketing and use of 121.5 MHz ELTs … it would engender the risk that aircraft owners and operators would mistakenly rely on those ELTs for the relay of distress alerts.” However, the notice specifically exempts the Brietling Emergency Watch, which broadcasts its signal on 121.5. Upgrading to the 406 ELTs comes at a cost, and many pilots believe there is not a great increase in safety. AOPA and EAA both have expressed opposition to the rule change and said they are working to prevent it from taking effect.