Confused About the ELT Talk?
January 29, 2009 — On February 1, 2009, the Search and Rescue (SAR) satellite system will discontinue monitoring 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) and only monitor the 406 MHz signal. 121.5 MHz ELTs will continue to be monitored, but only by ground-based facilities and airborne aircraft that happen to have their VHF receiver tuned to 121.5. The FAA has not proposed any changes to FAR 91.207 (the regulation requiring ELTs in most airplanes). This means that the 121.5 MHz ELTs will continue to meet the requirements of the regulation, even after February 1, 2009.
As a practical matter, 121.5MHz ELTs will not be as effective, and due to the lack of satellite monitoring, finding a downed airplane with 121.5 MHz ELT will be less likely. This may be reason enough for some airplane owners to upgrade to the 406MHz ELT units, as this will offer the best chance for search and rescue units to find a downed airplane. If looking to install an ELT you can choose either 406 MHz or 121.5 MHz ELT, either will meet the requirements of FAR 91.207, but only the 406MHz will be monitored with the SAR satellite system.
Another option to consider is the 406 MHz Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Handheld devices that are activated manually, PLBs send out a distress signal on 406MHz and could be a great supplement to the ELT installed in the airplane. PLBs do not meet the regulatory requirement of 91.207, so they should only be considered as an additional way to send out a signal on 406MHz - not as a means to meet the regulation.
The 406MHz issue is driven by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which adopted 406MHz as the international standard for ELTs. At the present time and for the foreseeable future, the FAA has chosen not to implement the ICAO standard. However, many other countries have. Neighboring countries have adopted the following policies:
Canada – Transport Canada has not yet formally adopted a policy for the 406 MHz ELT. However, they have indicated in the near future they will adopt a policy requiring a 406 MHz ELT installed in all aircraft, implemented during a 2-year conversion period, the details of which remain unspecified at this time.
Mexico - Reports indicate that aircraft with 121.5 MHz ELT installed are OK for operations in Mexico until July 1, 2009, or until the next mandatory ELT battery replacement - whichever comes first. Presumably after this date a 406 MHz ELT would be required.
Bahamas - All general aviation aircraft are allowed to use 121.5 MHz ELTs until 2/1/2011.
If you have any questions about ELT regulations, please contact EAA Aviation Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-EAA-INFO.