FCC Proposes Radio Licenses for UAS Operators

 - January 5, 2023, 10:56 AM
The FCC is floating rules that would allow uncrewed aerial vehicles to use the 5030- to 5091-MHz band for wireless, safety-critical communications. (Photo: FPL)

On Wednesday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed rules to enable wireless communications for unmanned aircraft system (UAS) use in the 5030- to 5091-MHz band. They include mandatory radio licenses for UAS operators. 

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was developed by the FCC in collaboration with the FAA and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—the same three agencies with ongoing responsibility for resolving issues related to 5G C-band cellular implementation and potential radar altimeter interference. The agencies developed this NPRM as part of the Inter-department Radio Advisory Committee process.

This NPRM seeks comment on rules for 5030 to 5091 MHz that would provide UAS operators with access to the licensed spectrum with the reliability necessary to support safety-critical communications links. Specifically, the FCC is seeking comment with regard to the sufficiency of FCC rules regarding potential interference or performance degradation between terrestrial mobile operations and UAS on flexible-spectrum bands.

The NPRM also proposes to require UAS operators to obtain an FCC license to communicate with ATC and other aircraft on the aeronautical VHF band “to further promote the safe integration of unmanned aircraft operations in controlled airspace and facilitate flight coordination.” Currently, UAS primarily operate under unlicensed and low-power wireless communications rules or experimental licenses.

“It is past time that we assess the availability of wireless communications resources for the increasingly important remote-piloted aircraft activity we rely on today,” said FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “The FCC must ensure that our spectrum rules meet the current—and future—spectrum needs of evolving technologies such as unmanned aircraft systems, which can be critical to disaster recovery, first responder rescue efforts, and wildfire management.”