Proposal to ban 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters opposed

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has told the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) that it vigorously opposes the commission’s plan to prohibit the future use of emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) that use a 121.5 MHz signal.

The proposal will have a negative impact on aviation safety and AOPA told the FCC it should immediately abandon its proposed rule changes and defer to the FAA on matters of aviation safety.

ELTs using the 121.5 MHz frequency are estimated to be installed in more than 200,000 general aviation aircraft. In the event of an accident, these devices transmit a distress signal on a radio frequency to alert air traffic control and other nearby aircraft to the location of the distressed aircraft.

“The FCC’s proposed actions are unlawful and procedurally irregular, they conflict with FAA safety policy and laws, are economically unjustified under a cost-benefit analysis, and will freeze and stunt the development of future emergency technology,” AOPA officials said in comments to the FCC.

By statute, an ELT must be installed in virtually every U.S.-registered civil aircraft. However, on Jan. 30, 2013, the FCC proposed to prohibit future sales of the 121.5 MHz ELTs and asked for input on whether to allow the units already installed to continue to be used.

The search and rescue community is seeking the ban and in doing so is attempting to force aircraft owners to discard perfectly functional units with new 406 MHz ELTs at a cost of $1,000 to $1,500 per airplane, AOPA officials note. This will impose a total cost of $500 million on aircraft owners.

Furthermore, association officials pointed out that the safety benefits of the 406 MHz models are minimal and short-lived since their use will be nullified as the FAA transitions to the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System and its associated use of Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B).

In 15 pages of comments to the FCC, AOPA’s vice president for regulatory affairs, Robert Hackman, noted that while the FCC was collecting comments on the proposed change, “docketed discussions — contrary to the proposed language of the FCC’s published notice — indicate that the FCC has already decided to ban 121.5 MHz ELTs regardless of the effect on aviation safety or of the costs on aircraft owners and small businesses.”

Despite the comment period coming to a close, the FCC has not provided the general aviation community a timeline as to when they would move forward with its ban on 121.5 MHz ELTs.

AOPA’s comments to the FCC may be viewed here.


  1. Bill Harpole says

    I fail to understand how people seem to think that ADS-B will end the need for an ELT. The regulations do not require all aircraft to be equiped with ADS-B, only if flying where a transponder is required, read the regs guys, that still leaves a hugh part of the country open. I do see the need in a 406 but only if they have an internal GPS or connected to one, otherwise they will not get search and rescue much closer the the 121.5. If your worried about cost, the new 406’s use standard d cell batteries and only need to be changed between 5-10 yrs opposed to 2yrs with the old ones.

  2. Jim Bruck says

    Are all the GA pilots aware that the Civil Air Patrol has emergency locating equipment that uses the 121.5 signal to locate downed aircraft?

    • Hal Gosling says

      CAP has equipment to seach for the 121.5 signal, but first they have to know that a signal is active; this was the Copass-Sarsat satellite system which doesn’t listen anymore. The CAP primarily uses air assets and ground teams with hand-held direction finders to search an ‘area of probability’. Again, they first have to be notified of a beacon transmitting. 90% of all 121.5 beacon signals are false emergencies; usually eminating from a marina (yes, boats too) or an airplane sitting in a hangar after maintenance or a hard landing. How many of us fly around listening to 121.5 or check 121.5 after landing? Hardly anyone.

  3. Tom Wright says

    Why does the FCC propose the ban? “The search and rescue community is seeking the ban…” Why, and who is that? Is there some sort of 121.5 deficiency that 406 will fix? And, if the 121.5 ban is not a compelling idea (which I suspect it’s not), what should we (the general aviation populace) do to protest?

  4. John says

    Has anyone told the authorities the new 406 beacons still transmit on 121.5 as well as 406? Interesting enough New Zealand has made 406 beacons compulsory. They however have failed in to operate in more than 70% of all aircraft accidents due to the external aerial or cable connecting it failing during the accident sequence. If has been an expensive and dismal failure in this country. Recent developments in company airborne tracking systems are what is being used to find missing aircraft in NZ recently with good results.

  5. Hal Gosling says

    I am unclear on the effort to prolong the life of the 121.5mhz ELT when there is no one out there listening for its signal? The COPAS-SARSATs have not been listeneing since 2009. I think the pilot population is under unformed on this subject and may be under the impression that someone is listening to the 121.5 signal. Ok, maybe the odd airliner is tuned in to 121.5 but why would a pilot want to risk death on a signal whereby the dedicated ELT satellites are no longer listening?
    This is moot now but at best, the the old satellites took at least two passes 45 minutes apart to get a reasonable lock on the 121.5 signal whereas the new 406 Mhz DIGITAL signal is instantaneously broadcast and give an extremely better location reference than the old analog signal. The first 24 hours to rescue are critical; after that chances of survival dwindle by 70% if I recall the Civil Air Patrol presentation on this. The CAP doesn’t listen either until a ‘Mission’ is called by the USAF which is triggered by a satellite pcking up the signal…which there is none for 121.5.
    I replaced my 121.5 ELT with the same manufacturer (AmeriKing) and the 406 unit fit right into the existing mount and used the same wiring with the addition of a plug in speaker behind the instrument panel.
    While we save our nickels to purchase the newest gee whiz glass, why neglect to cover our own precious backsides and fight for preserving a useless piece of equipment?

    • John says

      The answer is the beacons fail to transmit in over 70% of all aircraft accidents due to failure of the antenna or the cable connecting it to the beacon. A realtime satellite
      tracking system to a server is a much better system.

  6. Greg W says

    This is a very poor idea,and ADS-B will make it nearly moot in seven years. The cost/benefit will be small over such a short time. Requiring the installation of $1,000+ ELT’s and changing the “guard” freq. will possibly reduce safety, as many G.A. operators will not monitor 406 Mhz. as they do the 121.5/240 Mhz. today.

  7. Dennis Reiley says

    It would take a real idiot to change the frequency which would require the replacement or resetting of all those emergency radios. Of course if the FCC should pay for new radios, that would be an entirely different matter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *