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Fri, Jan 18, 2013

FCC Requests Comments On 121.5 MHz ELT Future

Agency Continues To Believe Phasing Out 121.5 Is 'In The Public Interest'

The FCC is seeking comment on the appropriate treatment of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) under Part 87 of the FCC Regulations. On Jan. 10, 2011, the FCC formally stayed its rule on the prohibition on the certification, manufacture, importation, sale or use of ELTs that transmit distress alerts on frequency 121.5 MHz.

In the Third Report and Order in this proceeding, the Commission amended Section 87.195 of its rules to prohibit the certification, manufacture, importation, sale or use of 121.5 MHz ELTs. It adopted this amendment because, among other reasons, the international Cospas-Sarsat satellite system, which relays distress alerts to search and rescue authorities, stopped monitoring frequency 121.5 MHz on Feb. 1, 2009.
 
After the Commission released the Third Report and Order, it received a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration asking that the Commission not implement the modification to Section 87.195. 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 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.
 
The FCC continues to believe that a phase-out of 121.5 MHz ELTs is in the public interest. While nothing in the record disputes the conclusion in the Third Report and Order that 406 MHz ELTs are superior to 121.5 MHz ELTs, or that a transition to 406 MHz ELTs would promote aviation safety, it seeks further comment on these tentative conclusions. It also seeks additional comments to help industry more closely consider the timing and implementation of any such transition.
 
As a result of the 2011 discussion with the Aircraft Electronics Association and other industry representatives, the FCC is reopening the rulemaking and is seeking additional comments in this proceeding on the proper timing and implementation of a phase out of 121.5 MHz ELTs and transition to 406 MHz ELTs. It asks for commenters to address proposals in the Third FNPRM, and otherwise provide views on these matters. To read the FCC's entire Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, click here.
 
The FCC sees no reason to certify new models of 121.5 MHz ELTs. Not only has Cospas-Sarsat stopped monitoring frequency 121.5 MHz, but the FAA has ceased design or production approval for new 121.5 MHz ELTs in light of the superiority of 406 MHz ELTs. As a result, there will be no new 121.5 MHz ELT devices for the Commission to certify. Consequently, while the prohibition on further certification of 121.5 MHz ELTs is currently stayed, the FCC proposes to prohibit further certification of 121.5 MHz ELTs immediately upon the effective date of any 121.5 MHz ELT rule amendments adopted as a consequence of this Third FNPRM.

It further proposes to prohibit the continued manufacture, importation and sale of existing 121.5 MHz ELT models beginning one year after the effective date of any 121.5 MHz ELT rule amendments adopted as a consequence of this Third FNPRM. This would have the practical effect of continuing the current stay on Section 87.195's prohibition on the manufacture, importation and sale of 121.5 MHz ELT models for one year after that effective date, though the stay itself would be lifted as of that date.

The Commission specifically seeks comments on whether or not it also should adopt a specific date to prohibit the continued use of 121.5 MHz ELTs in service. Information in the record submitted after the Third Report and Order was released suggests that permitting the continued use of 121.5 MHz ELTs, at least temporarily, may mitigate compliance costs, address a possible shortfall in the existing inventory of 406 MHz ELTs and prevent an unintended grounding of general aviation aircraft.

The FCC also is seeking information on the costs associated with a mandatory transition to 406 MHz ELTs and its specific proposals to discontinue the certification, and prohibit the manufacture, importation and sale of 121.5 MHz ELTs.

While the AEA opposed the 2011 proposed prohibition on continued use of legacy ELTs, it was disappointed that the FAA was in favor of the continuance of manufacturing and sale of an obsolete technology. Although, as stated earlier, on May 15, 2012, the FAA cancelled TSO-C91a, which results in no new TSO-C91a design or production approvals being issued after Dec. 1, 2012.

Comments may be filed electronically by accessing the ECFS at the link below or the federal eRulemaking portal. Filers should follow the instructions provided on the website for submitting comments.

FMI: File Comments Online, www.aea.net

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