Aircraft Inspection (Part Three)

in Aerodynamics, Aircraft Assembly, and Rigging

Air Traffic Control (ATC) Transponder Inspections

Any person using an air traffic control (ATC) transponder must have had, within the preceding 24 calendar months, that transponder tested and inspected and found to comply with 14 CFR part 43, Appendix F. Additionally, following any installation or maintenance on an ATC transponder where data correspondence error could be introduced, the integrated system must be tested and inspected and found to comply with 14 CFR part 43, Appendix E, by an appropriately person under 14 CFR.

Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) Operational and Maintenance Practices in Accordance With Advisory Circular (AC) 91-44

This AC combined and updated several ACs on the subject of ELTs and receivers for airborne service.

Under the operating rules of 14 CFR part 91, most small U.S. registered civil airplanes equipped to carry more than one person must have an ELT attached to the airplane. 14 CFR part 91, section 91.207 defines the requirements of what type aircraft and when the ELT must be installed. It also states that an ELT that meets the requirements of Technical Standard Order (TSO)-C91 may not be used for new installations.* (This is the ELT that smaller general aviation aircraft have installed and they transmit on 121.5 MHz.)

The pilot in command of an aircraft equipped with an ELT is responsible for its operation and, prior to engine shutdown at the end of each flight, should tune the VHF receiver to 121.5 MHz and listen for ELT activations. Maintenance personnel are responsible for accidental activation during the actual period of their work.

Maintenance of ELTs is subject to 14 CFR part 43 and should be included in the required inspections. It is essential that the impact switch operation and the transmitter output be checked using the manufacturer’s instructions. Testing of an ELT prior to installation or for maintenance reasons, should be conducted in a metal enclosure in order to avoid outside radiation by the transmitter. If this is not possible, the test should be conducted only within the first 5 minutes after any hour.

Manufacturers of ELTs are required to mark the expiration date of the battery, based on 50 percent of the useful life, on the outside of the transmitter. The batteries are required to be replaced on that date or when the transmitter has been in use for more than 1 cumulative hour. Water activated batteries, have virtually unlimited shelf life. They are not usually marked with an expiration date. They must be replaced after activation regardless of how long they were in service.

The battery replacement can be accomplished by a pilot on a portable type ELT that is readily accessible and can be removed and reinstalled in the aircraft by a simple operation. That would be considered preventive maintenance under 14 CFR part 43, section 43.3(g). Replacement batteries should be approved for the specific model of ELT and the installation performed in accordance with section 43.13.

AC 91-44 also contains additional information on:

  • Airborne homing and alerting equipment for use with ELTs.
  • Search and rescue responsibility.
  • Alert and search procedures including various flight procedures for locating an ELT.
  • The FAA Frequency Management Offices, for contacting by manufacturers when they are demonstrating and testing ELTs.

*The reason; as of January 31, 2009, the 121.5/243 MHz frequency will no longer be monitored by the COSPASSARSAT (Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking) search and rescue satellites.

NOTE: All new installations must be a 406 MHz digital ELT. It must meet the standards of TSO C126. When installed, the new 406 MHz ELT should be registered so that if the aircraft were to go down, search and rescue could take full advantage of the benefits the system offers. The digital circuitry of the 406 ELT can be coded with information about the aircraft type, base location, ownership, etc. This coding allows the search and rescue (SAR) coordinating centers to contact the registered owner or operator if a signal is detected to determine if the aircraft is flying or parked. This type of identification permits a rapid SAR response in the event of an accident, and will save valuable resources from a false alarm search.