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Proposal for FCC Rules for UAS Command and Control Spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking public comment on a proposal by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) to adopt service rules for the use of 5030-5091 MHz by small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). 

Following international agreement on the revised use of this frequency band, the FCC allocated it for sUAS last year, but at that time did not specify operating rules. AIA’s petition requests that the FCC assign this spectrum to Control and Non-Payload Communications (CNPC) links, which would be used by licensed sUAS pilots to transmit critical data necessary to control the sUAS. The new rules would fall under Part 87 of the FCC’s rules, which governs aviation-related communications.

AIA’s proposal is complex and may likely see changes before it reaches the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking stage. Key aspects of the proposal include:

FCC Licensing

  • An FCC license to use 5030-5091 MHz would be required, specifically an “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Command and Non-Payload Communications Operator License”
  • Only FAA-certified pilots in command (PICs) or sUAS operators (organizations that certify that their pilots have FAA authority) could obtain an FCC license
  • License terms for individual PICs would be for the same period as FAA PIC certifications, currently two years
  • Organizations could have longer license terms
  • Fleet licenses or individual aircraft station licenses would not be allowed

Allowable Communications

  • Only “safety of life” related communications would be allowed
    • Data between PIC and sUAS (altitude and GPS location, speed, fuel, etc.)
    • Data between sUAS and ground stations
    • Data between PIC and Air Traffic Control
    • Limited video links for certain beyond-line-of-sight operations
      • Use of these frequencies to transmit video for purposes like photography or surveillance would not be permitted, given the limited amount of spectrum available and the high bandwidth required for such transmissions

Spectrum Management

  • PICs would request use of a communications channel for a particular geographic area and time of day
  • One or more Frequency Assignment Managers (FAMs) would use dynamic frequency spectrum management assignment processes to either assign a channel or notify the PIC that no channel is available
  • Fees could be charged by a FAM
  • FAMs would determine when and how PICs must “release” channels after their flight is completed or clears a geographic area
  • The specifics of the database management system and qualifications of a FAM would need to be determined
  • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a part of the Department of Commerce that manages spectrum use by Federal entities, would need to create a system to coordinate Federal users with the database management system(s)
  • The FCC would need to enter into coordination agreements with Canada and Mexico to arrange for operations along the U.S. border

Technical Specifications

  • The general technical specifications in Part 87 would apply
  • No additional technical specifications, such as bandwidth, power, modulation, etc., are proposed
  • This would provide flexibility for sUAS manufacturers, such as to provide for line-of-sight or networked communications
  • CNPC technologies would need to be certified by both the FAA and the FCC
  • Station identification (transmissions of an sUAS tail number and FCC license number) should be required

Public comments on AIA’s proposal are due on May 29, 2018 in FCC Docket No. RM-11798. The FCC will rely on these comments to determine whether to open a rulemaking proceeding and, if so, what specific rules to propose.

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