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Clarification of ELT Requirements

September 4, 2008 — This week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) sent out notifications to U.S. aircraft owners regarding upcoming changes in emergency locator transmitter (ELT) services. NOAA reminds owners that as of February 1, 2009, satellite coverage of 121.5 MHz ELTs will end and that only ground-based monitoring will take place. NOAA recommends that aircraft owners transition to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard digital 406 MHz ELT systems.

This has caused some confusion among aircraft owners, many who presume they are now required to upgrade to the 406 MHz units. This is not the case. There is no requirement in the U.S. at this time to upgrade to the 406 MHz systems. Installing such a unit is solely an option at the discretion of the aircraft owner.

Of course, operating with a 121.5/243 MHz ELT after the deadline presents additional risks to pilots and passengers if a crash occurs, especially in remote areas. Essentially, someone who crashes while flying without a flight plan will depend on someone else to:

  • Recognize they are overdue and notify the authorities to initiate a search over an indeterminate area, or;
  • Hope someone hears the 121.5/243 MHz ELT on their radio, and calls it in.

Every moment lost after an aircraft crash is a moment closer to a loss of life. While the FAA doesn't mandate the upgrade, itís still an idea worth considering, based on the flying you do.

EAA fought to preserve the rights of aircraft owners to choose which ELT system is best suited for their type of flying. Through education (news articles, NOAA/SARSAT exhibits in the Federal Pavilion during AirVenture, and other efforts), aircraft owners have increased their knowledge and awareness of the differences between the 121.5/243 MHz ELT and the 406MHz ELT, allowing them to make an informed choice on whether or not to upgrade. Simply requiring an upgrade to 406 MHz ELTs as FAA proposed several years ago is too costly a burden to place on recreational/general aviation aircraft owners.

A note to those flying outside the U.S.: While 406 MHz ELTs are not mandatory for operating in the U.S., pilotís who fly internationally - to Canada, Mexico, etc. - after February 1, 2009, will be required to upgrade their ELTs to the new ICAO standard 406 MHz units. EAA is working with Transport Canada to obtain an exemption to this regulation for aircraft transitioning through Canada to Alaska, or flying from the northeastern part of the U.S. to the west where the most direct flight route requires a short transition through Canadian airspace.

Click here for additional information on this change.

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