December 20, 2018

Demise of 121.5 MHz ELTs One Step Closer


The manufacture, importation, certification and sale of 121.5 MHz ELTs will be prohibited in the U.S. in 2019. That country’s communications regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), had originally put forth the rule in 2010 but the FAA, together with COPA’s sister organization AOPA, protested its implementation, citing a substantial cost difference between 121.5 and 406 MHz units, which are meant to supplant the older technology.

Effective January 11, 2019, certification of new 121.5 ELTs in the U.S. will be prohibited. Six months later, the FCC will implement the remaining prohibitions. The continued use in the U.S. of existing 121.5 ELTs will not be restricted, however, and their re-certification unhindered, at least for the time being.

In a statement, the FCC said “This will accelerate the transition to 406 MHz ELTs and, as a consequence, enhance the ability of search and rescue personnel to locate and bring aid to the victims of plane crashes and provide safety benefits to search and rescue personnel as well as pilots and passengers. The record demonstrates that 121.5 MHz ELTs were clearly inferior to 406 MHz ELTs due to interference and other concerns even prior to the termination of satellite monitoring of 121.5 MHz, and that the advantages of 406 MHz ELTs have increased since then.”

How will this affect Canada? Given that most, if not all, manufacturers of ELTs are based in the U.S., they may decide that the remaining market outside of the U.S. is not sufficient to justify the ongoing manufacture of 121.5 MHz units, which would presumably be done in a factory outside of the U.S.

“It’s been a long time coming and it is just a natural technological evolution. So if you need to replace your ELT, it will be with a 406 MHz model,” said COPA President and CEO Bernard Gervais. “I still foresee space-based ADS-B ELTs as being the ultimate technological solution in a few years. All this reminds me of how floppy disks gave way to DVDs, and even they are now clearly dying due to online or cloud-based technologies.”

Canadian purchasers of an ELT who wish to stay with 121.5 MHz technology will likely soon find the market limited to second-hand units only.