What we Have Here is Failure to Communicate

4:02 PM

Maybe this is just crazy, but you'd THINK the Federal Communications Commission would have "communicating" completely dialed in. But no, this being our Federal government – which is having a hard time doing much right under ANY president – has apparently stabbed us GA pilots in the back with new rules designed to prohibit the use of 121.5 MHz ELTs as early as this August.

First, let's have AvWeb bring us up to speed, from their site:

The Federal Communications Commission took the general aviation world by surprise when it said in a recent report it will prohibit the sale or use of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters, effective in August [2010]. The Aircraft Electronics Association it just learned of the new rule today [June 21, 2010], and has begun working with the FAA, FCC and others to allow for timely compliance without grounding thousands of general aviation aircraft. The 121.5 ELTs are allowed under FAA rules. The FCC said its rules have been amended to "prohibit further certification, manufacture, importation, sale or use of 121.5 MHz ELTs." The FCC says that if the 121.5 units are no longer available, aircraft owners and operators will "migrate" to the newer 406.0-406.1 MHz ELTs, which are monitored by satellite, while the 121.5 frequency is not. "Were we to permit continued marketing and use of 121.5 MHz ELTs ... it would engender the risk that aircraft owners and operators would mistakenly rely on those ELTs for the relay of distress alerts," the FCC says. AOPA said today it is opposed to the rule change.
Now a logical person would think that when the FCC was going to effectively BAN a critical part of the avionics systems in this country, they might just consider talking to the industry first to see how this regulation would effect the people who use ELTs. Of course, we know that logic has been mostly AWOL in modern day Washington, DC. It boggles thy mind to see that AEA is learning about this the same day everyone else is. Smells like rat in here.

Let's let EAA's Dick Knapinski clarify a bit, from today's press release:
Pilots Caught in Middle of Conflicting Federal Rules: EAA is working to remedy a situation where conflicting rules written by two different federal agencies will soon place pilots in a precarious position – being in compliance with one but not the other. On June 15 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published in the Federal Register a change to 47 CFR Part 87 that will “prohibit the certification, manufacture, importation, sale, or continued use of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) other than the Breitling Emergency Watch ELT.” Meanwhile, the FAA in 14 CFR Part 91.207, stipulates that U.S.-registered civil airplanes are required to have an approved automatic type emergency locator transmitter in operable condition attached to the airplane. The FAA does not specify either 121.5 or 406 MHz, but the overwhelming majority of aircraft are equipped with 121.5 MHz units, meaning they would be in violation of federal law when it goes into effect 60 days after publication, or August 15, 2010. EAA is working with fellow aviation associations to prevent this action and exploring all avenues of action to address this rule before it goes into effect. “This regulatory change would impose a substantial and unwarranted cost on general aviation,” said Earl Lawrence, EAA vice president of industry and regulatory affairs. “And this also creates a burden for the GA community and those ground-based rescue units that continue to use the 121.5 frequency to perform searches and save lives. “At the very least the FCC action is being conducted without properly communicating with the industry or understanding the implications of its action,” he added. The FCC rule also highlights the fact that threats to GA can come from many different agencies, and that agencies outside of the FAA do not necessarily understand the effects of their actions on aviation.
I have a gut feeling this will work itself out when everyone comes to the table to sort out a realistic timeline to convert the entire GA fleet to 406 MHz. And while a conspiracy theorist might think this was a blatent attempt by FCC to give the 406 MHz makers a gift of HUGE sales, I won't go there. That would require slick coordination on the part of two or more government agencies, which at this point seems somewhere between unlikely and impossible.

Not that I don't want a 406 MHz ELT...sure who doesn't. It is a much better system, and I am sure that I'll switch the Katyliner over to that ELT in the future. But it feels like a knife in the back to be FORCED to do that in the next few weeks. I had not planned on coughing up $1,500 for avionics this summer, and am as miffed as the entire GA world is today to have this kind of crap shoved down our throat in the name of government ineptitude.

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