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121.5 ELT's soon to be illegal??


Goldy
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So first, the FAA allows the expiration of the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite agreement without adapting any of their rules. They only knew for 10 years or so that our existing 121.5 ELT's would no longer be monitored. So now if your ship goes down, god help you, or you could be out in the cold for some time before anyone finds you. Nobody monitors the 121.5 signal by satellite anymore!

 

Now, the FCC has decided that effect in August, no one can sell or USE an ELT on the 121.5 frequency. So, every aircraft that REQUIRES an ELT will now have to upgrade to a 406mhz unit, even though the FAA doesnt require it.

 

If you happen to have a 121.5 ELT in your aircraft (like me) where it is not required...you will have to now REMOVE it. So basically, they would rather you had nothing than something.

 

Gosh, I'm glad I pay my taxes so I can have geniuses like this working for me.

 

read it and weep:

FCC Bans 121.5 ELTs

 

The Federal Communications Commission took the general aviation world by surprise when it said in a recent report it will prohibit the sale or use of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters, effective in August. The Aircraft Electronics Association said it just learned of the new rule today, and has begun working with the FAA, FCC and others to allow for timely compliance without grounding thousands of general aviation aircraft. The 121.5 ELTs are allowed under FAA rules. The FCC said its rules have been amended to "prohibit further certification, manufacture, importation, sale or use of 121.5 MHz ELTs." The FCC says that if the 121.5 units are no longer available, aircraft owners and operators will "migrate" to the newer 406.0-406.1 MHz ELTs, which are monitored by satellite, while the 121.5 frequency is not. "Were we to permit continued marketing and use of 121.5 MHz ELTs ... it would engender the risk that aircraft owners and operators would mistakenly rely on those ELTs for the relay of distress alerts," the FCC says. AOPA said today it is opposed to the rule change.

 

"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 AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rob Hackman. "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." The AEA said dealers should refrain from selling any new 121.5 MHz ELTs "until further understanding of this new prohibition can be understood and a realistic timeline for transition can be established."

 

Now, doesnt this all make perfect sense!

 

Goldy

Edited by Goldy
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It's been "published" by the FCC as part of its order (number 10-103)

but not "published in the Federal Register," at least as of my

clicking "send," which is the act starting the 60-day clock before

the new rule goes into effect.

 

The Aircraft Electronics Association this morning provided the

following update on the FCC ELT ban:

 

1. The August date listed in the AEA Regulatory Update dated June 21

is the absolute earliest date the FCC rule could have become

effective. Thanks to the efforts of the AOPA, the AEA and other trade

associations, the final rule has not been submitted to the Federal

Register for publication; therefore, the 60-day clock for

implementation of the rule has not begun. As such, at this time,

there is no way of knowing if or when this rule will become final.

 

2. The FCC has clarified that the rule is targeting legacy TSO C91a

type ELTs, which operate primarily on 121.5 MHz, not the general use

of frequency 121.5 MHz as the rule implies. Current TSO C126 ELTs are

not affected by this ruling.

 

3. While the AEA encourages its membership not to sell C91a ELTs to

customers without them knowing the latest ruling of the FCC, there is

no immediate regulatory need for operators to upgrade their legacy

C91a ELTs to the more modern C126 ELTs. For safety reasons, the AEA

continues to encourage operators to upgrade their ELTs to the modern

C126 ELT. Operators of the legacy C91a ELTs should be made aware the

usefulness of their ELTs is very limited, as the justification for

the FCC ruling indicates, and most likely will not provide the

search-and-rescue capabilities they might expect.

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Listen,

 

Do you really think they would do this just to piss everyone off? There is a reason. Several, in fact.

 

From the Coast Guard website:

121.5 MHz false alerts inundate search and rescue authorities. This is another major factor in influencing the decision to stop the satellite processing. False alerts adversely impact the effectiveness of lifesaving services. While the 406 MHz beacons cost more, they provide search and rescue agencies with the more reliable and complete information they need to do their job more efficiently and effectively.

 

In this regard, the 406 beacon is specifically better. From the Civil Air Patrol website, which conducts a lot of SAR for downed aircraft:

 

These 5 Watt digital beacons transmit a much stronger signal, are more accurate, verifiable and traceable to the registered beacon owner (406 MHz ELTs must be registered by the owner in accordance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation at www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov).

 

Registration allows the search and rescue authorities to contact the beacon owner, or his or her designated alternate by telephone to determine if a real emergency exists.

 

Therefore, a simple telephone call often solves a 406 MHz alerts without launching costly and limited search and rescue resources, which would have to be done for a 121.5 MHz alert.

 

Also, it is damn hard to pinpoint the 121.5 ELT signal. Don't you think that *might* be important if your bird goes down in the middle of nowhere and you are praying to whoever you pray to that Search and Rescue can find you? Wouldn't, at that point, a higher-quality ELT which allows us to pinpoint you MUCH MORE PRECISELY, be worth it?

 

From permison's post:

Operators of the legacy C91a ELTs should be made aware the

usefulness of their ELTs is very limited, as the justification for

the FCC ruling indicates, and most likely will not provide the

search-and-rescue capabilities they might expect.

I've been involved in Search and Rescue (for aircraft, primarily) a long time. Pinpointing these older ELTs sucks - if you're the one who is in trouble. For us in SAR, it's a bit more exciting because we have to do a helluva lot of searching to find you. That's not what you want, though.

 

Regarding the false alerts, these happen all the time. Airplanes in hangars (i.e. no emergency) constitute a ridiculous amount of the ELT alerts we get. That might not seem like a big issue, but it is because it is wearing down resources, and decreases the seriousness of an ELT alert.

 

I agree that perhaps this could have been implemented more smoothly, and that the cost needs to go down more. But think about how many people die because their plane/helicopter went down in the mountains and Search and Rescue couldn't find them. ELTs are critically important, especially ones that function as effectively as possible. The number is higher than you think.

 

P.S. I apologize if that all came off as harsh - there are many sides to a story, and when it comes to emergency and lifesaving equipment, I'm pretty passionate. I also haven't yet had my coffee this morning. I'll get on that. :)

 

EDIT: Here is a post elsewhere from another SAR junkie:

121.5 ELTs

When activated the 121.5 type ELTs will transmit an audible sweep that is picked up by ground and satellite-based stations. The satellite could give an approximate location to within a radius of about 20 miles. Literally 99% of the ELT missions we go on are false alarms caused by maintenance, accidental flipping of switches, ELTs thrown in the garbage (try to find THAT one), or hard landings.

 

406 ELTs

When the 406 type beacons are activated they have the capability to transmit digital information along with the sweep tone. These will continue to be monitored by satellite. What digital information is transmitted will depend on the particular type of device and installation but at the very least it will transmit a serial number that will give the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) a chance to look up the device in a database, find who it's registered to, and give them a call to see if they're at home enjoying dinner after a bouncy landing or having accidentally flipped the switch. More advanced 406 ELTs may be wired into the aircraft's onboard GPS and upon activation not only transmit the registration number but also the last known location. Finally, the most advanced ones have a built-in GPS and can continue to broadcast their location even after the crash and if the ELT is moved (or slid down a mountain).

 

Besides unit registration number and location, some units will also transmit the tail number of the aircraft. I came upon one of those one day while searching a signal at an airport. Having a tail number to look for sure narrowed the search down by quite a bit and we quickly came upon an airplane on the ramp near the runway with a badly pranged propeller. The pilot was home having dinner and trying to relax after quite an ordeal but didn't realize that his ELT was going off.

 

I can tell you that I highly recommend you get a newer 406 ELT or don't bother flying anywhere where you might have to make a forced landing and people aren't going to witness it. Living in California I can tell you that there's a lot of places where you won't be seen. Get a 406, register it, and help us to help you.

 

Tell you what, folks, it really sucks being on a mission and not being able to find the target.

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Do aircraft ELT's actually save lives? In a severe crash it really does not matter. A good or lucky emergency landing the pilot can still use the aircraft radio or a cell phone. Maybe the pilot and passengers can walk out. It would seem a very narrow range where a life saving rescue is possible.

 

If we imagine a perfectly reliable ELT that transmits poistion, and identity. How often would it save a life? Is that different for helicopters and airplanes.

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Do aircraft ELT's actually save lives? In a severe crash it really does not matter. A good or lucky emergency landing the pilot can still use the aircraft radio or a cell phone. Maybe the pilot and passengers can walk out. It would seem a very narrow range where a life saving rescue is possible.

 

If we imagine a perfectly reliable ELT that transmits poistion, and identity. How often would it save a life? Is that different for helicopters and airplanes.

 

Really? I'm not sure if this is an actual question or you really think this, but since I'm sipping my coffee I'll assume you are asking. Yes, aircraft ELTs actually save lives. More often than you'd think. Obviously if an aircraft crashes in an urban area, people will know where it landed. However, it is not uncommon for aircraft to crash (typically because of poor weather, visibility, mechanical issues) in unpopulated areas (such as the mountains, forest, even the ocean). I volunteer with SAR in Washington State. There are a LOT of unpopulated areas here. People, when they fly, like to fly over the mountains because it is "pretty." It is, but not so much when you find yourself needing to make an emergency landing. You really think you would get cell coverage in those areas? You don't.

 

If ELTs didn't save lives, they wouldn't be required. Period. Say what you will about how idiotic some government rules are, they wouldn't be required! In a severe crash is when it matters THE MOST. You are out of cell range, cannot move, and cannot make a shelter. This means Search and Rescue NEEDS to find you right QUICK. This is when a 406Mhz beacon is CRITICAL. A 20 mile radius in deep forest (the listening range of the 121.5) is a huge huge huge distance. I highly recommend you get involved with your local Civil Air Patrol if you want to see what it's like.

 

Even if the passengers can walk out...how many of you carry survival gear with you in your aircraft? If you do GOOD ON YOU. I wish everyone did. It makes it that much more likely SAR will find you alive. However, we all know that very few people do this. If you crash in the mountains, you will probably be disoriented, have no idea where to go, have very little, if any food, a wrecked plane for shelter, and no compass to get the hell out (a little SAR tip - stay by your plane - it is easier for us to spot a plane wreckage from the air than a person wandering around).

 

Please do not mistake the lifesaving ability of these ELTs. Please do not assume that they won't make a difference. I don't know if you have kids, but if you do, and you take them up for a flight one day and god forbid, crash where no one saw you go down, and you are out of cell phone coverage, you will be praying you had that 406 beacon. Especially when you can see search planes overhead, for days on end, but they can't see you.

 

If you think I'm being dramatic, I'm not. It's a reality check. This sh*t happens, and people need to be aware.

 

I would share some pictures with you of recent airplane crashes/wreckages, but I am not allowed to distribute them. Let me tell you, they are eye-opening. You would be shocked to find out the percentage of them that flip over on impact, and what a body looks like when it's burned from an aircraft fire and the pilot decided to wear polyester/nylon that day. Something else to consider...even if you die in the impact, your family would appreciate the closure of SAR finding the wreckage.

 

EDIT:

Found this picture of how incredibly difficult it is to find a downed aircraft in the forest. This is from Civil Air Patrol around Washington, D.C. The key here is to look for discoloration in the trees, indicating dead trees from an aircraft fuel fire. Look at the picture, and then imagine trying to find this crash in the fall, when all the trees look like that. Even if a SAR bird flew right over you, we would still have a tough time seeing you. This is where ELTs (like the 406, which is much more accurate) can save your life. Even if it reduces the search area from 20 miles to 5 miles, in this terrain, that can make all the difference.

spotterair.jpg

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Lindsey (and others),

While I appreciate your spirit to this event, I think you guys are over reacting a little bit. (Lindsey, your comments regarding ELTs are spot on, I've been a member of CAP for 20 years with too many REDCAP missions to count, the pic you posted is from Virginia not DC and that picture was taken by my old squadron along the Shenandoah).

 

However, as I posted before. This doesn't mean that all ELTs are outlawed now. The rule only applies to legacy TSO C91a type ELTs, which operate primarily on 121.5 MHz, not the general use of frequency 121.5 MHz as the rule implies. Current TSO C126 ELTs are "NOT" affected by this ruling.

 

Further the phasing out of 121.5 ELTs has been known for a while. The official monitoring of the satellites ended 2 or 3 years ago. (Although I know they still do it).

 

Even further, Guard (121.5 and 243) Channels are still being actively monitored by ATC and others. Most airlines have a policy of maintaining a radio on 121.5 freq at all times. And I know all CAP aircraft monitor.

 

However, (and this is why I escaped DC for the Rockies) this was very poorly implemented such as it was. Typical DC bureaucracy one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. It's got a lot of people riled up about very little. The ONLY people who need to worry for now are those with the older model C91a ELTs.

 

Sorry Goldy if your aircraft falls into this category, I know it sucks to have to deal with this. However I can tell you that the PLBs are getting pretty cheap these days. I have two of them. If you shop around you can find them for as low as $200 with GPS.

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And don't forget that NOTAM FDC 4/4386 states, in part:

 

ALL AIRCRAFT OPERATING IN UNITED STATES NATIONAL AIRSPACE, IF

CAPABLE, SHALL MAINTAIN A LISTENING WATCH ON VHF GUARD 121.5 OR UHF 243.0.

 

That's a current NOTAM, retrieved today.

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Very good points, Permison! I get a bit...passionate when discussing this stuff. Good posts you made to balance things out a bit.

 

Nothing wrong with anything you posted, all very good stuff. I am on a number of pilot discussion boards and every single one is lit up with rapid fire emails about this (I think I have recived over a 1000 emails about it since yesterday, not directed at me but through the email discussion lists). Lots of miss information flying around about the FCC rule on transponders. Since it is in DC double speak it is easy to misunderstand it. And many people have.

 

Until it is "published in the Federal Register," it is not a rule yet. And you would have 60 days after that still. I think it will be a while before this is actually implemented.

 

More importantly this has been known to be coming since 2000.

 

From the FCC report (http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-10-103A1.pdf)

As it first announced in October 2000, however, Cospas-Sarsat stopped monitoring 121.5 MHz signals as of February 1, 2009. Cospas-Sarsat stopped processing distress signals from 121.5 MHz emergency radiobeacons due to accuracy and false alert problems, and, with the support of international aviation and maritime organizations, has urged users of 121.5 MHz ELTs and EPIRBs to switch to 406.0-406.1 MHz ELTs and EPIRBs.69 As the Commission further noted in the Second FNPRM, moreover, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Air Force, and the National

Aeronautical and Space Administration, which jointly administer the Cospas-Sarsat system in the United States, have strongly recommended that users of 121.5 MHz beacons switch to 406.0-406.1 MHz beacons.

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Lindsay,

 

I appreciate you expertise in the SAR area. I repeat my question.

 

The answer; if the government requires it, it must be good is not a good answer.

 

I list a few situations tham might happen:

 

1. The flip over and burn situation no lives would be saved. 0

2. The landing in a populated area, there would be no additonal lives saved. 0

3. The completely successful emergency landing in a remote place, some lives saved. 5

4. The completely successful landing in a non remote place, no additional lives saved. 0

5. The emergency where people are seriously injured but alive in a very remote place no lives saved. 0

6. The emergency where people are seriously injured but alive in less remote place some lives saved. 5

 

I have guessed the annual number of lives that might be "saved" in the US by a perfect EPIRB.

You probably can estimate some better numbers, share them.

 

I have assisted SAR at sea. The 406MHz eprib is reasonably accurate. The GPIRB is very accurate and timely. The 121.5 is almost useless.

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I love a little passion in posts, so Lindsay don't need any apologies. I am also somewhat involved in the S&R process down here in parts of L.A. I have been on many trainings, and many live searches. I cannot remember a single time the ELT led us to an injured person, but it led us to dead bodies and wreck sites plenty of times.

 

I know how much better the 406MHZ units are, I know all of the pitfalls of 121.5. However, we HAVE known this was coming for years and the FAA has done absolutely nothing about it! Why are they 10 years behind updating their requirements? Why not say, 10 years from now we are phasing out the older ELT's, so if yours needs repair...upgrade it, stop making the old style, stop selling them. Start moving people to 406 units, so that when the satellite reception ends, all GA aircraft have 406 units...that should have been the goal.

 

Instead we let the satellite monitoring of 121.5 go away completely with no change implemented for GA aircraft. Even Mexico has rules requiring 406 mhz units on aircraft. According to the FAR's as of today, the US still does not require 406, and with the FCC issuing half written rules, it's just an example of our goverment once again, way behind the times.

 

Geez, maybe I should join the Tea Party Movement.

 

Goldy

Edited by Goldy
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Gotcha, Goldy. Guess I misread your original post as complaining about the need for the switch. Regardless, I hope some people gained a little insight (I am by no means an expert) as to the differences to the two types of beacons and why it is important for people to switch (though via perhaps a more rational and thought-out transition).

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Perhaps in the above posts somewhere it is mentioned that the new ELTs also broadcast on 121.5 as well as 406. The wording of the ruling is weak at best, but the monitoring of 121.5 by airborne aircraft will still be effective.

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Perhaps in the above posts somewhere it is mentioned that the new ELTs also broadcast on 121.5 as well as 406. The wording of the ruling is weak at best, but the monitoring of 121.5 by airborne aircraft will still be effective.

 

Funny, I was going to mention that. The CURRENT wording of the FCC proposal would outlaw any transmission on 121.5 which would have made even the most recent ELT's and EPIRB's illegal to use, because they all have secondary transmitters on 121.5

 

406Mhz might give us some great information, and location details, but nobody I know of has the technology installed in their S&R ships to listen, or track on a 406 beacon. Everybody I know of can track a 121.5 beacon.

 

You would think that someone at the FCC would know that before they propose a rule change.

 

In time, we will all convert to a better system, but the transition could have been handled better.

 

Enough said.

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The 406 will give smaller search box then the 121 but 121 is a better DF signal close in, most new units TX both better still get one with GPS built in.

Dont understand the fuss $1000+ for head sets then don't want to spend on a safety,the demise of 121 has been about for a No. of years! cant believe people have spent big $ on 121 repairs in the last 3\4 years.

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