I have previously blogged about discontinued satellite monitoring of 121.5 MHz and the ever-retreating deadline for Canadians to switch to 406 MHz ELTs. In that entry I mentioned that Canada was hoping the Americans would require the new emergency beacons first, so that they would make cheap ones and we could afford them. A better reason is probably so that they wouldn't have to decide between making an exception to the rule for American tourists, or losing the tourist revenue when Americans refused to by a new piece of equipment just to overfly Canada.
Curiously, it isn't the FAA (the U.S. agency that regulates aviation) or the NTSB (the U.S. agency that investigates accidents and makes safety recommendations) that have made the move. It's the Federal Communications Commission, the agency that regulates "interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable." These are the guys that decide who gets to broadcast on what frequency, and the ones who spent hours scrutinizing television footage of Janet Jackson's naked breast. On June 1st the FCC released this document. The ELT ruling is in sections 16 to 19 starting on page ten. It says, in part:
After reviewing the comments, we conclude that we should prohibit the certification, manufacture, importation, sale or continued use of 121.5 MHz ELTs. We believe that if 121.5 MHz ELTs are no longer available, aircraft owners and operators will migrate to 406.0-406.1 MHz ELTs, and the advantages of 406.0-406.1 MHz ELTs will 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.
The American Pilots and Owners Association immediately opposed the new rule, objecting to the sudden cost it would impose on their members. My reading is that the FCC didn't consider existing installations of ELTs to be use, and weren't actually intending to make it illegal to fly with an old ELT. If they really meant to forbid flight without a 406 MHz ELT, then why would they use words like "believe" and "migrate"? Remove the word "use" and I think it would be a pretty clever solution. You don't need to buy a new ELT until you need to buy a new ELT. And I think anyone who needed to buy a new ELT these days would most likely buy a 406 MHz one anyway. Wouldn't you?