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Rep. Graves Wants To Know If The FAA Will Oppose FCC Rule On 121.5 MHz ELT’s
By Daniel Baxter

May 11, 2013 - On Wednesday, the Committee on Small Business held a hearing titled, Retrospective Review, Have Existing Regulatory Burdens on Small Businesses Been Reduced? On January 18, 2011, in an executive order, President Obama directed agencies to look again at the regulations in place and find ways to reduce the burden on small businesses.

At the hearing, the Committee questioned whether agencies’ efforts to engage in a retrospective review of their rules are resulting in meaningful reductions to that burden. According to the Office of Management and Budget, in Fiscal Year 2012, 14 major rules alone imposed an additional $14.8 to $19.5 billion in annual costs, which was the costliest year on record for federal regulation.

By comparison, there were only 6 major rules, ten years ago, in Fiscal Year 2003, which imposed only $1.9 to $2 billion in annual costs.


Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) an AOPA member and co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus opened with “We’re here today to examine the results of a government-wide initiative to review existing red tape. Like an overgrown forest that needs to be thinned periodically, the regulatory system requires regular pruning.

At that meeting U.S. Representative Graves asked Polly Trottenberg, Under Secretary for Transportation for Policy at the Department of Transportation “if the FAA, Department of Transportation is going to oppose the FCC’s rule (to ban the “the certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or use of 121.5-MHz Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT)) because it is going to be extraordinarily burdensome, and these are small businesses and this equipment is very expensive. You have hundreds of thousands of aircraft out there with this equipment in there and now being required to buy new equipment, which is going to cost millions and millions of dollars to the industry and to a lot of small businesses out there.”

Trottenberg said that new FCC chairmen would be coming onboard soon and this issue would be place on the list for discussion and that she would get back to him (Graves).



Back in February 2009, the Cospas-Sarsat System which is a satellite based search and rescue (SAR) distress alert detection and information distribution system, established by Canada, France, the United States, and the former Soviet Union in 1979, stopped processing signals from 121.5 MHz and 243 MHz beacons. Cospas-Sarsat is best known as the system that detects and locates emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and backcountry hikers in distress. Over the years many countries have joined the project, either as providers of ground segments or as user states. Cospas-Sarsat is based in Montréal, Québec, Canada.

At present Cospas-Sarsat only monitors signals from 406 MHz beacons. The idea was to reduce SAR resources on false alerts while simultaneously increasing the responsiveness of the system for real distress cases. As a result “the public interest” the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed to prohibit the further certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or use of 121.5 MHz ELTs. The Commission acknowledged that aircraft owners and pilots still using 121.5 MHz ELTs would incur an expense, but concluded that the safety benefits outweighed the compliance cost, especially given that the aviation community had been on notice since 2000 that Cospas-Sarsat would cease monitoring the frequency.

Prior to the founding of Cospas-Sarsat, the civilian aviation community had already been using the 121.5 MHz frequency in the VHF band for distress, while the military aviation community utilized 243.0 MHz in the UHF band as the primary distress frequency with 121.5 MHz in the VHF band as the alternate.

Early in its history, the Cospas-Sarsat system was engineered to detect beacon-alerts transmitted at 406 MHz, 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz. More recently, the Cospas-Sarsat system has been designed to detect only alerts transmitted at 406 MHz. This allows the system to be optimized for the increasingly sophisticated 406 MHz beacons, and avoids problems (including false alerts) from the less-sophisticated legacy 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz beacons. Many ELTs include both a 406 MHz transmitter, for satellite detection, and a 121.5 MHz transmitter that can be received by local search crews using direction-finding equipment.
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