Do You Have 121.5 MHz ELT Inventory?

On January 30, 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a proposed rule that would prohibit the certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or use of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters (ELTs).  Distributors with 121.5 MHz ELTs in inventory could be adversely affected by a rule that prohibits sale or use of these units.  ASA members who think they may be affected by the proposed rule should contact the Association so that we can file comments reflecting your concerns.

ELTs are radiobeacons that are activated manually or automatically to alert search and rescue personnel that an aircraft has crashed, and to identify the location of the aircraft and any survivors. They are carried aboard most aircraft in the U.S. In the event of an aircraft accident, these devices are designed to transmit a distress signal. Currently, ELTs are required to be installed in almost all U.S.-registered civil aircraft.

The FCC originally proposed this ban in 2010 because the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system, which is an international system that relays distress alerts to search and rescue authorities, stopped monitoring the 121.5 MHz frequency in 2009 (in favor of using the 406 MHz frequency). However, many 121.5 MHz ELTs are still in use and the 121.5 MHz frequency is still monitored by other search and rescue entities.

In response to the original proposed ban, the FAA stated that 121.5 MHz ELTs can continue to provide beneficial means of locating missing aircraft even without satellite monitoring because the frequency is still monitored by the  U.S. search and rescue community, including the Civil Air Patrol. The FAA also expressed concerns about the costs and availability of replacements for the 121.5 MHz ELTs.

In 2011, FCC issued a stay of their original ban.  Now, they are seeking information to decide whether the ban should move forward.

FCC is seeking public comment on several issues, including the costs of purchasing and installing a 406 MHz ELT to replace a 121.5 MHz ELT, the availability of 406 MHz ELTs, and whether some general aviation aircraft would be grounded due to an inability to acquire a 406 MHz ELT. FCC also seeks comment on alternatives to the proposed rule that minimize the economic impact on small entities, such as continued use of 121.5 MHz ELTs, grandfathering those currently in use, or providing an extended transition period.

Comments are due to the FCC by March 1, 2013.  They should reference WT Docket No. 01–289, FCC 13–2.


Proposed Rule:

FCC Presentation:

FCC Discussion “Part 87 Third FNPRM Concerning Aviation Radio Service:”


About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Air Carrier Purchasing Conference, and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association. He also represents private clients drawn from the spectrum of the aviation industry.

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