FCC Issues Final 121.5 MHz ELT Rule

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  • FCC Issues Final 121.5 MHz ELT Rule

    Early last month the FCC released their FOURTH REPORT AND ORDER on the eventual transition from 121.5 MHz Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) to 406 MHz ELTs. You can download it at: http://www.equipped.org/FCC-18-155A1.pdf The guys at Polaris RDF, who make a higher-tech and effective Radio Direction Finder https://www.polarisrdf.com/ put together a summary of the 21-page, 100-footnote and 3 appendices document that summarizes it into plain language, so with permission, I'll just republish it below with a my own comments in parenthesis:

    The document boils down to this: 406 MHz ELT’s are coming as nothing can stop this migration, but, and it’s a big but, existing 121.5 MHz ELTs may still be used until November 6, 2026.

    The report states that after a six-month transition period beginning November 7, 2018, the FCC will prohibit the manufacture, importation or sale of 121.5 MHz ELT’s. As there has not been any significant manufacturing in the US of 121.5 MHz ELTs for some time, sales of these ELTs can only come from existing inventory in the supply chain and even those sales must cease May 6, 2019.

    The report weighed the availability of supply of new 406 MHz ELTs and the costs to the end user of replacing their functioning 121.5 MHz ELT against the public good of an enhanced search and rescue operation with the newer 406 MHz.

    The report recognized that the user base of the existing 121.5 MHz ELTs was not in any hurry to run out and buy a new ELT. However, after May 6, 2019 they will have no choice if their existing 121.5 MHz ELT is due for replacement. Natural attrition will thus cause many to make a change before the 2026 deadline.

    This reluctance to upgrade a FAA mandated item is understandable as these 121.5 MHz ELTs have been effective for many years (DR: Sometimes, but hardly reliable and not what I suggest you bet your life on as they are no longer effective at distress alerting). Some aircraft owners probably question the need for the 406 MHz ELTs and may well demonstrate their displeasure by delaying making their purchase until well into the 2020’s. After all, they have eight years and a lot can happen in the interim (DR: like you could crash and not get rescued in time!).

    It is estimated that there are over 130,000 General Aviation aircraft equipped with 121.5 MHz ELTs. The average life of a 121.5 ELT is 10 years minimum. Even conservative estimates of 121.5 MHz ELTs that will still be in the air until November 2026 put the number at 75,000.

    All this is interesting, but the bottom line is you still should not rely on a 121.5 MHz ELT. It no longer is effective in alerting to your distress because the satellites no longer process the signal. The only way they alert is if a passing aircraft guarding 121.5 MHz or ATC in line of sight hears it. So, useful for homing, but pretty much useless for distress alerting.

    If you have a 121.5 MHz ELT in your aircraft I strongly recommend you change it out for a 406 MHz with GPS integration (internal or via connection to your GPS onboard).

    Having said that, I even more strongly recommend that all pilots carry a PLB or a SEND (Garmin inReach or Globalstar SPOT) on their person. The ELT is back-up to your PLB or SEND if you are not in a position to manually activate it.

    My recommendation for a PLB is either the ACR ResQLink or the Ocean Signal PLB1 rescueME / Artex PLB. I carry the ACR ResQLink.

    I prefer the inReach to the SPOT, but either is acceptable in the CONUS, but be aware that unlike a PLB, they require an annual subscription.
    Last edited by Doug Ritter; 12-03-2018, 20:00.
    Doug Ritter

  • #2
    Thanks, Doug.


    • #3
      I'm sure there's plenty of stories, but this one caught my eye. American tourist spends night on overturned catamaran after it capsizes off Queensland coast.

      Once he turned on his EPIRB, he was rescued in short order.