Aviation Safety’s Need for Frequency for ELTs should Trump FCC’s Alternative Uses

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ARTICLE: DOT opposes FCC’s bid to ban 121.5 MHz ELTs


Clearly, the FCC has a lot of policy and technical considerations when making decisions which may or may not be readily apparent to the aviation industry. Ironically, the FCC Chairman did not seem to have the reverse appreciation.

The above referenced Commission proceeding which, in one form or another has been continuing for years, is designed to terminate the use of the 121.5 MHz frequency and to ban the future manufacture of the radios which are used to locate aircraft after they have crashed.

The US Department of Transportation has filed comments in the FCC’s rulemaking docket. Acting DoT General Counsel (who is also FAA Chief Counsel) Kathryn B. Thomson sent a letter to the Secretary of the FCC vehemently opposing the sister federal organization’s proposed action. She stated that Congress has enacted a statute the intent of which was to “permit the use of 121.5 ELTs in civil aircraft” and she also noted “that the cost to the general aviation community of a mandatory retrofit would still be significant.”

Additionally AOPA and NATA have previously filed well-reasoned and cogent arguments why the FCC’s NPRM violates the Administrative Procedure Act, is bereft of rationale and contradicts the FAA’s competent (in the legal meaning of the word) judgment that these transmitters are critical to aviation safety.

It seems obvious to those in aviation safety that continuing the availability of this frequency for Emergency Location Transmitters is a good idea. It may make sense to set a target many years in the future when it should be terminated, but that date must be set to allow all of the existing aircraft with these ELTs to operate until their useful lives are terminated. That may be longer than the FCC would like, because this frequency is valuable for commercial uses. Aviation safety should trump that alternative use in the interim.

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