The FAA has issued a Notice to Airman announcing the scheduled end of satellite processing of emergency locator transmitter (ELT) distress signals broadcast over 121.5 MHz and 243 MHz. According to the Notam, “[t]he Cospas-Sarsat Program has announced plans to terminate satellite processing of distress signals from 121.5 and 243 MHz emergency beacons on February 1, 2009.” The Cospas-Sarsat program is an international search and rescue program that uses satellite-aided tracking and its announcement is part of a transition to the more accurate 406-MHz ELTs. The Notam also appears to imply that the transition is in part based upon the fact that “121.5 MHz false alerts inundate search and rescue resources which impact the effectiveness of lifesaving services”
In spite of the announcement, ELTs that transmit on 121.5 MHz will still satisfy FAA requirements and be legal after February 1, 2009. Additionally, FAA and DOD ground stations will continue to monitor 121.5 MHz and 243 MHz and will be capable of intitiating search and rescue operations. (I wonder if this means the FAA will revise the existing post-9/11 Notams that require monitoring of 121.5 MHz by all aircraft when able and capable.) However, the lack of satellite monitoring will significantly limit the current ELT signals usefullness. As a practical matter, pilots and aircraft operators considering an upgrade will end up having to make a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether an upgrade is necesssary or worth it.