406-MHz ELT Requirement Starts Next Month

After Feb. 1, 2009, the world-wide Cospas-Sarsat satellite system will no longer process 121.5 MHz alert signals.


Termination of satellite monitoring of 121.5 MHz ELTs will happen in under a month. Are you ready?

On Feb. 1, 2009, the International Cospas-Sarsat [1] Organization (U.S. included) will terminate processing of distress signals emitted by 121.5 MHz Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs). Pilots flying aircraft equipped with 121.5 MHz ELTs after that date will have to depend on pilots of over flying aircraft and or ground stations monitoring 121.5 to hear and report distress alert signals, transmitted from a possible crash site.

Currently only 12-15 percent of the registered aircraft in the United States are flying with 406 MHz ELTs. This means that there is at least an 85 percent chance that an aircraft in an accident will only transmit a 121.5 MHz signal, thus remaining silent to the satellites. It will be up to other pilots monitoring the 121.5 MHz frequency in the cockpit to alert Search and Rescue authorities to accidents involving 121.5. When you fly, look out for your fellow pilots and when possible monitor 121.5 MHz.

If a 121.5 MHz ELT is heard on guard, report to the nearest air traffic control tower or Flight Service Station, the time and location of when you first detect the ELT, when it is the loudest, and when it drops off your radio. Listening and reporting may well be the difference that saves a life.

Cospas-Sarsat System (U.S. included) has been and will continue processing emergency signals transmitted by 406 MHz ELTs. 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. For these reasons, the search and rescue community is encouraging aircraft owners to consider retrofit of 406 MHz ELTs or at a minimum, consider the purchase of a handheld 406 MHz Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) which can be carried in the cockpit while continuing to maintain a fixed 121.5 MHz ELT mounted in the aircraft's tail.

Remember, after Feb. 1, 2009, the world-wide Cospas-Sarsat satellite system will no longer process 121.5 MHz alert signals. Pilots involved in aircraft accidents in remote areas will have to depend on pilots of over flying aircraft and or ground stations to hear emergency ELT distress signals. For further information concerning the termination of 121.5 MHz data processing visit www.sarsat.noaa.gov or contact switchto406@noaa.gov with any questions.

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