Emergency Communications and 121.5 MHz


Aeronautical Information Circular (AIC) number 37/08 is entitled "DECOMMISSIONING 121.5 MHZ AT 11 REMOTE COMMUNICATIONS FACILITIES".

While we do not normally bring AICs to our members’ attention, we are doing so for this one because there may be a misunderstanding, which perhaps stems from our training, about how best to communicate when we are in distress.

There are a total of 381 remote communications facilities in Canada. With the exception of the 11 facilities listed in the AIC, none of the remaining 370 has 121.5 capabilities. The RCO network has been this way for many years; in other words very little of Canada is monitored for 121.5.

Some pilots may believe that the most reliable way to communicate when in distress is on 121.5. While this may be true if another aircraft happens to be in range and monitoring 121.5 (pilots are encouraged to monitor 121.5 whenever possible especially with the cessation of 121.5 ELT monitoring by satellite on 1 February 2009), most aircraft with the luxury of two radios have one on either the Flight Information Service En route (FISE) frequencies monitoring for weather updates for example or on the frequency for control, flight following or traffic broadcasts at uncontrolled aerodromes, and the other on 126.7 monitoring for position report broadcasts from other aircraft.

With relatively little of Canada being monitored by ATS for distress calls on 121.5 and pilots monitoring other frequencies in general, chances are that a 121.5 distress call will not be heard, and certainly not by Nav Canada’s Air Traffic Services (ATS).

There is some indication in occurrence reports of ELT signals that high fliers are still monitoring 121.5 but this cannot be assured at all times. The removal of monitoring at the few RCOs now providing the service will eliminate confusion regarding where monitoring by ATS occurs.

While control towers and flight service stations will continue to have 121.5 capabilities, this emergency frequency is only monitored during their hours of operation.

The most reliable frequencies for communicating distress to ATS, who are best equipped to deal with a distress situation including alerting a Rescue Coordination Centre, are the normal communications frequencies.

A pilot with an emergency has the following options for communicating with ATS (in order of preference):

• When within radio reception of a control tower or FSS and during the facility hours of operation call ATS on the tower frequency/FSS mandatory frequency (MF) or 121.5;

• When within radio reception of a remote communications facility (FISE RCO, Remote Aerodrome Advisory Service (RAAS) RCO, or Peripheral station (PAL)) call ATS on the published frequency (Note: FISE RCOs and PALs operate 24 hrs while most RAAS RCOs operate part-time);

• If beyond the radio reception of an ATS facility or when outside the facility hours of operation, broadcast on 126.7 or 121.5 or both for assistance from other pilots who may be monitoring the frequency and who can relay messages to ATS; and,

• Emergency use of cell phones is permitted. These numbers are listed in the CFS as follows:

- Control towers, in the B section under COMM for each airport listing where there is a control tower;

- Area Control Centres, in the B section listing for each ACC (for example Toronto Centre);

- Flight Information Centres, in section A under Flight Planning, where both the toll free and direct dial numbers are listed.

Regarding the extent of coverage of the remote communications facilities, several initiatives have and will continue to increase ATS coverage such as the installation of northern PALs and the RCO Redesign project, where some RCOs have been moved to PAL/VOR locations up from the airport and future new RCO installations will fill gaps in coverage.

Transport Canada’s Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) will be revised to provide additional information on emergency communications and 121.5 MHz. See AIM, sections COM 5.11, 5.12 and SAR 4.2, for current information on emergency communications. AIC 37/08 and all AICs can be found at http://www.navcanada.ca/ContentDefinitionFiles/Publications/ AeronauticalInfoProducts/AIP/Current/PDF/EN/part_5_aic/5aic_eng.pdf .

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