Conflicting rules written by two different federal agencies could soon place pilots in a precarious position: Being in compliance with one but not the other.
On June 15 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published in the Federal Register a change to 47 CFR Part 87 that will “prohibit the certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or continued use of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) other than the Breitling Emergency Watch ELT.” Meanwhile, the FAA in 14 CFR Part 91.207, stipulates that U.S.-registered civil airplanes are required to have an approved automatic type emergency locator transmitter in operable condition attached to the airplane. The FAA does not specify either 121.5 or 406 MHz, but the overwhelming majority of aircraft are equipped with 121.5 MHz units, meaning they would be in violation of federal law when it goes into effect 60 days after publication, or Aug. 15, according to officials with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).
EAA officials said they are working with other aviation associations to prevent this action and exploring all avenues of action to address this rule before it goes into effect.
“This regulatory change would impose a substantial and unwarranted cost on general aviation,” said Earl Lawrence, EAA vice president of industry and regulatory affairs. “And this also creates a burden for the GA community and those ground-based rescue units that continue to use the 121.5 frequency to perform searches and save lives. At the very least, the FCC action is being conducted without properly communicating with the industry or understanding the implications of its action.”
Officials at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) said they are pursuing all options to have the FCC and FAA delay and re-evaluate the rule, highlighting the economic and operational impact to the more than 220,000 aircraft in the GA fleet, most of whom still carry the 121.5 MHz ELTs.
“The FCC is making a regulatory change that would impose an extra cost on GA operators, without properly communicating with the industry or understanding the implications of its action,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. “There is no FAA requirement to replace 121.5 MHz units with 406 MHz technology. When two government agencies don’t coordinate, GA can suffer.”
It would be impossible to outfit all aircraft in the timeframe of the FCC rule and cost prohibitive for GA aircraft owners, AOPA officials note.
The rule highlights the fact that threats to GA can come from many different areas, Hackman said. Government agencies outside of the FAA don’t necessarily understand the effects of their actions on aviation, and poor communication can compound the problem.
Both the 121.5 MHz and 406 MHz ELTs meet the FAA’s regulatory requirements if manufactured to the proper technical standard order. While satellites no longer monitor the 121.5 MHz frequency as of Feb. 1, 2009, the frequency is monitored by ATC, the military, and other pilots.