Avionics News July 2013 - 40

THE ELT MESS

Continued from page 39

still failed to activate in actual crashes or presented false alarms, a
huge source of frustration. In fact, a 2003 brochure from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated their false
alarm rate was higher than 99 percent. In other words, it was unlike almost every other piece of avionics available.

Push Comes To Shove
The industry lived with the status quo of having two basic ELT
standards for a time, but it wasn’t until late in the last decade
that operators started to get serious about buying and installing
406 MHz ELTs manufactured under TSO-C126 and successive
revisions. (TSO-C126b, effective Nov. 26, 2012, is the current
standard.) Advocates of the newer technology received a major
boost on Feb. 1, 2009, when COSPAS-SARSAT, the international organization tasked with satellite monitoring of signals from
ELTs and similar devices, stopped listening to 121.5 MHz, after
announcing its plans some eight years earlier.
For some time before the 2009 cutoff, a debate had been raging among the FAA and industry: Should the 406 MHz ELT be
mandated? That debate got sharpened when the NTSB on Feb.
8, 2000, asked the FAA to “require that all ... ELTs meet the
requirements of Technical Standard Order C126 or equivalent
technology within three years.” The FAA’s response noted that
Congress, once again, had gotten into the act, stating in a 2000
law an aircraft meets the requirement for ELT carriage “if it is
equipped with an emergency locator transmitter that transmits
on the 121.5/243 megahertz frequency or the 406 megahertz
frequency.” The FAA’s hands were tied. On Sept. 4, 2007, the
NTSB tried again, with a formal recommendation to the FAA
that it require 406 MHz ELTs “at the earliest possible opportunity,” and urging upgrades to the newer devices be required on or
before Feb. 1, 2009.
The FAA responded on Dec. 3, 2007, saying a comprehensive study of incident and accident data, and associated costs of
equipage and maintenance was needed, and that it “will commit
the necessary resources to conduct a safety benefit study regarding the use of 121.5 MHz versus 406 MHz ELTs.” By June 7,
2010, the FAA had completed its study and concluded “the cost
of equipping the general aviation aircraft and air taxi fixed-wing
aircraft fleet approaches $0.5 billion,” adding that approximately
38,000 406 MHz ELTs had been installed. The FAA concluded,
“Based on the cost of mandatory equipage with 406 MHz ELTs,
the rate of voluntary equipage, and the use of new technology,
such as EPIRBs, we choose neither to seek authority from Congress nor to require the installation and maintenance of 406 MHz
ELTs. We will encourage voluntary upgrading to these ELTs as
well as remind the aviation community of the renewed importance of monitoring 121.5 MHz for ELT signals.” The FAA’s
conclusion remains its policy, and was restated April 22, 2013.
40

avionics news

•

july

2013

Up to this point, the major players in this poker game had been
Congress, the FAA and the NTSB, the three entities responsible
for legislating and regulating aviation safety in the U.S. But when
the saloon doors swung open again only eight days later, the FCC
stepped in, and the game changed. On June 15, 2010, the FCC
announced a proposed policy to mandate 406 MHz ELTs by prohibiting use of a 121.5-only ELT to “provide safety benefits for
search and rescue teams as well as aircraft pilots, crew and passengers, while also preserving search and rescue resources for
real emergencies. Were we to permit continued marketing and
use of 121.5 MHz ELTs, on the other hand, it would engender
the risk that aircraft owners and operators would mistakenly rely
on those ELTs for the relay of distress alerts.” The FCC’s action
– coming as it did from an agency whose responsibilities do not
include regulating aviation safety – also lacked an effective date,
throwing the industry into further turmoil.
The FAA called the FCC’s bluff, responding that the proposal
would be “detrimental to the aviation community,” among other
problems. By Jan. 11, 2011, and in at least partial response to
widespread industry opposition, the FCC retracted its proposal,
stating, “No action will be taken regarding 121.5 MHz ELTs until
further notice, following an additional opportunity for interested
parties to comment.” At this point, things were back to normal:
No new first-generation (TSO-C91) ELTs could be installed,
TSO-C91a ELTs remained available and legal, and installing a
TSO-C126 ELT ensured compliance for the foreseeable future.
And no federal agencies were trying to assert jurisdiction over
the FAA’s mandate to regulate aviation safety.
Then, the FAA upped the ante: After publishing a notice requesting comments on its proposed action, the agency canceled
TSO-C91a, effective Dec. 1, 2012. The effect? No new 121.5
MHZ-only ELTs can be brought to market; only previously approved products may be bought or installed. The FAA noted
cancellation “does not impact operation of TSO-C91a ELTs,”
which will continue to satisfy the ELT equipage requirement.
In other words, customers may still buy, install and use 121.5
MHz-only ELTs, but the FAA will not approve new ones or substantial changes to existing models. The FAA was edging toward
phasing out older ELTs in favor of newer ones approved under
TSO-C126.
But the FCC wasn’t taking a partial “yes” for an answer,
even if it has no jurisdiction. On Jan. 29, 2013, the FCC again
published a new rule, proposing “ELTs that operate only on frequency 121.5 MHz will no longer be certified,” thus prohibiting
their use, and, again, omitted an effective date. The Commission
also requested public comment on whether existing ELTs should
be “grandfathered,” if so, for how long and whether indefinite
grandfathering was appropriate. The FCC’s comment period
ended April 1, 2013. As this issue of Avionics News was being
prepared, the FCC has not yet taken additional action.
Continued on page 42



Avionics News July 2013

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Avionics News July 2013

Point of Communication
AEA Now
The View from Washington
International News and Regulatory Updates
Panel Power for Budget Flying
Member Profile
ADS-B Countdown
Onboard Traffic Systems
A Conversation With...
The ELT Mess
Member Profile
iPads in Maintenance
Before & After
Aviation Aces
Growing Your Market
Avionics News Through the Years
FAA Fact Sheet on General Aviation Safety
AEAviators
'Smart and Cost-Friendly'
Business Basics
Legal Ease
What's New
Marketplace Classifieds
Avionics News July 2013 - Intro
Avionics News July 2013 - Cover1
Avionics News July 2013 - Cover2
Avionics News July 2013 - 1
Avionics News July 2013 - 2
Avionics News July 2013 - 3
Avionics News July 2013 - Point of Communication
Avionics News July 2013 - 5
Avionics News July 2013 - AEA Now
Avionics News July 2013 - 7
Avionics News July 2013 - 8
Avionics News July 2013 - 9
Avionics News July 2013 - 10
Avionics News July 2013 - 11
Avionics News July 2013 - 12
Avionics News July 2013 - 13
Avionics News July 2013 - The View from Washington
Avionics News July 2013 - 15
Avionics News July 2013 - International News and Regulatory Updates
Avionics News July 2013 - 17
Avionics News July 2013 - 18
Avionics News July 2013 - 19
Avionics News July 2013 - Panel Power for Budget Flying
Avionics News July 2013 - 21
Avionics News July 2013 - 22
Avionics News July 2013 - 23
Avionics News July 2013 - Member Profile
Avionics News July 2013 - 25
Avionics News July 2013 - 26
Avionics News July 2013 - 27
Avionics News July 2013 - ADS-B Countdown
Avionics News July 2013 - 29
Avionics News July 2013 - 30
Avionics News July 2013 - 31
Avionics News July 2013 - Onboard Traffic Systems
Avionics News July 2013 - 33
Avionics News July 2013 - 34
Avionics News July 2013 - 35
Avionics News July 2013 - A Conversation With...
Avionics News July 2013 - 37
Avionics News July 2013 - The ELT Mess
Avionics News July 2013 - 39
Avionics News July 2013 - 40
Avionics News July 2013 - 41
Avionics News July 2013 - 42
Avionics News July 2013 - 43
Avionics News July 2013 - Member Profile
Avionics News July 2013 - 45
Avionics News July 2013 - 46
Avionics News July 2013 - 47
Avionics News July 2013 - iPads in Maintenance
Avionics News July 2013 - 49
Avionics News July 2013 - 50
Avionics News July 2013 - 51
Avionics News July 2013 - 52
Avionics News July 2013 - Before & After
Avionics News July 2013 - Aviation Aces
Avionics News July 2013 - 55
Avionics News July 2013 - 56
Avionics News July 2013 - 57
Avionics News July 2013 - Growing Your Market
Avionics News July 2013 - 59
Avionics News July 2013 - 60
Avionics News July 2013 - 61
Avionics News July 2013 - Avionics News Through the Years
Avionics News July 2013 - 63
Avionics News July 2013 - FAA Fact Sheet on General Aviation Safety
Avionics News July 2013 - 65
Avionics News July 2013 - 66
Avionics News July 2013 - 67
Avionics News July 2013 - 68
Avionics News July 2013 - 69
Avionics News July 2013 - AEAviators
Avionics News July 2013 - 71
Avionics News July 2013 - 'Smart and Cost-Friendly'
Avionics News July 2013 - 73
Avionics News July 2013 - Business Basics
Avionics News July 2013 - 75
Avionics News July 2013 - 76
Avionics News July 2013 - 77
Avionics News July 2013 - Legal Ease
Avionics News July 2013 - 79
Avionics News July 2013 - 80
Avionics News July 2013 - 81
Avionics News July 2013 - What's New
Avionics News July 2013 - 83
Avionics News July 2013 - 84
Avionics News July 2013 - 85
Avionics News July 2013 - Marketplace Classifieds
Avionics News July 2013 - 87
Avionics News July 2013 - 88
Avionics News July 2013 - Cover3
Avionics News July 2013 - Cover4
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