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For Safety NTIA Pushes FCC On 406 MHz ELT And To Eliminate 121.5 MHz ELT

February 6, 2014 - National Telecommunications And Information Administration (NTIA) is in support of an Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that calls for the elimination of the emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) operating on 121.5 MHz and replacing it with the 406 MHz ELT. 

ELTs are radio beacons that when activated manually or automatically it will send out an alert to search and rescue personnel that an aircraft has crashed, and to identify the location of the aircraft and any survivors. 

Back in 2010 the FCC had proposed an order to prohibit certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or use of 121.5 MHz-only emergency locator transmitters (ELTs).

The Commission also requested comment as to the appropriate effective dates for such prohibitions. However, NTIA had issued stay request from the FAA until it could review the matter. 

After a review, NTIA’s believes that that public policy supports the measured elimination of 121.5 MHz-only ELTs and that continued use of 121.5 MHz ELT technology increases the risk and cost of search and rescue operations (SAR). The 406 MHz ELTs’ advanced technology eliminates risk attributable to 121.5 MHz-only ELT technology.

406 MHz ELTs are monitored by Cospas-Sarsat geostationary and low earth orbiting satellites with global coverage, which enables prompt alerts to SAR services.

The 406 MHz ELTs are superior to 121.5 MHz-only equipment in their ability to increase the efficiency and accuracy of search and rescue operations, thereby minimizing threats to life and property, reducing costs of federal and state search and rescue operations, and improving the likelihood that such operations will be successful.

Reduction in false alerts - 406 MHz ELTs transmit a digital signal which typically contains unique information about the aircraft and its owner. SAR organizations can use that information to verify quickly that a possible incident has occurred. In contrast, 121.5 MHz-only ELTs transmit an analog signal that cannot contain any information about the aircraft involved. As a result, 121.5 MHz-only ELTs have been plagued by false distress alerts leading to risky, costly, and unnecessary search efforts.


There is also strong support on the record for prohibiting the certification, manufacture, importation, sale, and use of 121.5 MHz-only ELTs after reasonable transition periods. The costs to aircraft owners to transition from 121.5 MHz-only to 406 MHz ELTs have declined in recent years and likely will continue to do so in the years to come. NTIA believes these costs are significant but must be balanced against other compelling factors such as social costs. 

SAR service organizations estimate that replacing 121.5 MHz-only ELTs with 406 MHz devices will lead to significantly reduced risk to SAR service personnel (and SAR equipment) and fewer passenger deaths. These public policy benefits outweigh potential costs to individual owners where costs also have the ability to be amortized over multiple years. NTIA is requesting the FCC to prohibit certification of 121.5 MHz-only ELTs as of the effective date of a final order, manufacturing and importation of such devices 12 months after the effective date of a final order, and sale and use of 121.5 MHz-only ELTs 96 months after the effective date of a final order.

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