As ETS has noted previously, 121.5 MHz (and 243 MHz - military use only) distress signals will eventually no longer be processed by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellites. The United States Coast Guard has issued the following media advisory to this effect. While this advisory does not mention a time frame, during the June 2000 meeting of the 23rd Session of the COSPAS-SARSAT Programme Agreement (of 32 nations) a consensus was reached to terminate processing of 121.5/243 MHz satellite alerts by February 1, 2009. (See official NOAA announcement.)
The Russians will stop including 121.5/243 MHz repeaters on their satellites starting in year 2006. In 2003 the sale and manufacture of 121.5 MHz EPRIBs will become illegal and in 2006 it will become illegal to use these beacons.
The legal situation with ELTs in aircraft is a bit more up in the air. In Europe, by 2002 and 2004, and in the U.S. by 2004, depending upon circumstances and use of the aircraft, transport category aircraft, business jets and heavy turbo-props must be fitted with a 406 MHz ELT. In the U.S., AOPA and other aviation organizations continue to fight mandatory 406 MHz ELTs for light General Aviation, primarily because of the cost.
Should you run out and immediately change out your 121.5 MHz EPIRB or ELT for a 406 MHz model? If your sole concern is meeting regulatory requirements and 121.5 is still legal for your use, then the answer is probably no. Prices, size, and weight are bound to come down over the next few years as the deadline approaches. If, however, you intend to depend upon your distress beacon to save your life in an emergency, then yesterday isn't too soon to make the change to 406 MHz. Anyway you look at it, 406 MHz is vastly superior to 121.5 MHz.
ETS continues to urge all pilots and mariners to install or carry a 406 MHz distress beacon. For aviation use, because the cost of 406 MHz ELTs continues to be so high, we recommend pilots carry a 406 MHz EPIRB or PLB (purchasable outside the U.S.) as a supplement to the required ELT on board the aircraft. This is especially critical for overwater flights.
UNITED STATES COAST GUARD
UNITED STATES COAST GUARD
MEDIA ADVISORY 11-8-99
Point of Contact: Lieutenant Commander Paul Steward, (202) 267-1586; email@example.com
STEPS BEGIN TO DISCONTINUE THE USE OF 121.5 AND 243 MHz
FOR SATELLITE DISTRESS ALERTS
The International COSPAS-SARSAT Program announced, it will terminate satellite processing of distress signals from 121.5 and 243 MHz emergency beacons. Although the use of emergency beacons activating on these frequencies is not under the purview of the COSPAS-SARSAT Program, mariners, aviators and other persons will have to switch to emergency beacons operating at 406 MHz in order to be detected by satellites.
The COSPAS-SARSAT Program is currently working on the details, including the time frame, of the termination of 121.5 and 243 MHz satellite alerting services. While no effective date has been set yet for this action, it is expected to occur far enough into the future to avoid a crisis situation for persons now using these beacons.
COSPAS-SARSAT operates a satellite constellation that relays distress alerts to search and rescue authorities through a worldwide ground communications network. The appropriate search and rescue agencies then respond to provide assistance. The beacons used include emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) in aircraft, emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) carried onboard vessels, and personal locator beacons (PLBs) used by individuals. Aviators, mariners and other persons around the globe use these beacons, although there has been no regulatory provision for use of PLBs yet in the United States.
Influencing COSPAS-SARSAT Program's decision is guidance from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). These two specialized agencies of the Untied Nations are responsible for regulating the safety of ships and aircraft, respectively, on international transits, and handle international standards and plans for maritime and aeronautical search and rescue. Over 180 nations are members of IMO and ICAO.
121.5 MHz false alerts inundate search and rescue authorities. This is another major factor in influencing the decision to stop the satellite processing. False alerts adversely impact the effectiveness of lifesaving services. While the 406 MHz beacons cost more, they provide search and rescue agencies with the more reliable and complete information they need to do their job more efficiently and effectively.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with the United States Coast Guard, United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, are responsible for implementing the COSPAS-SARSAT Program at the national level.
The United States Coast Guard is the lead agency for coordinating national search and rescue policy and is responsible for providing search and rescue services on, under and over assigned international waters and waters subject to United States jurisdiction.
The implication of this COSPAS-SARSAT decision is that users of beacons that send distress alerts on 121.5 and 243 MHz should eventually switch to beacons operating on 406 MHz if they want the alerts to be detected and relayed via satellites. Meanwhile, anyone planning to buy a new distress beacon needs to be aware and take the COSPAS-SARSAT decision into account.
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