Airborne Use

Paul Jarvis of Ofcom, speaking at the National Hamfest and at the RSGB Convention, mentioned that Ofcom has had a number of enquiries from non-amateurs regarding the use of the amateur spectrum for telecommand, telemetry and/or remote sensing downlinks from unmanned platforms, such as balloons, model helicopters, etc.  These are referred to as unmanned airborne vehicles, or UAVs.  The presentation slides are available for download.

Over the years the RSGB has questioned Ofcom as to allowing some relaxation of the licence conditions in respect of UAVs to facilitate amateur experimentation.  The current arrangements are seen to be unsatisfactory whereby licence exempt equipment is used within some amateur bands.

At the National Hamfest and at the RSGB Convention Paul Jarvis stated that agreement would be required from the CAA, and if this was taken forward it would be for Full Licensees only and apply to bands where the amateur service has primary status.

This Litmus Test consultation has now finished, with the following outcome::

The RSGB has been keen to seek a relaxation in the conditions of the amateur licence to allow experimentation with unmanned airborne platforms.

The postings involved a significant number of people who did not hold amateur licences, yet were either involved with the High Altitude Balloon community or with First Person View (FPV) radio-controlled flying. The postings were almost entirely supportive, with much enthusiasm for experimentation through a relaxation in the amateur licence. It would appear from the postings to this consultation that there are lots of people, especially in the younger demographic, who would be keen to get am amateur licence if it enabled a wide set of options for Airborne operations.

The following thoughts need to be taken into consideration
1. Within the spirit of amateur radio such a concession would allow experiments in transmission from and messaging with an aerial platform. As well as remote sensing, propagation investigation, aerial profiling, repeaters & transponders, testing satellite systems, FPV images/video and position reporting were seen as valid uses;
2. Experimentation would support improved reliability of the overall communication system
3. Such a relaxation would support the work carried out by the High Altitude Ballooning community and others in getting children and adults interested in science, engineering and amateur radio;
4. Linking the relaxation to the Full Licence holder would support the interests of licence progression and also provide greater surety against unintended interference to other radio services;
5. A relaxation would bring UK amateurs into line with counterparts in some other countries where the amateur licence allows transmissions from airborne platforms;
6. Several postings suggested the needs for an incentive system, whereby some improved access could be given to the lower licence levels;
7. Unattended beacons on airborne platforms should be included as a part of the relaxation (they are currently allowed using the licence exempt frequency of 434 MHz)
8. 28 MHz and 144 MHz bands were proposed as suitable primary amateur bands for airborne transmission, with a maximum transmit power of 1 Watt PEP. 24 GHz band was also suggested in order to allow experimentation with broadband transmission systems.
9. As 434 MHz is currently allowed for airborne use consideration should also be given to giving access for licensed radio amateurs to a part of the 430 MHz amateur band. It was noted that IR2030 provides Unattended Aeronautical Operation to unlicensed users as follows
• 25mW at 868 MHz
• 25mW at 2400 – 2483.5 MHz
• 500mW at 2446 – 2454 MHz
• 25 mW at 5725 – 5875 MHz
As in the case of 434 MHz it would be desirable if all licensed radio amateurs were to have at least the same privilege as unlicensed at these frequencies, and ideally higher power levels in recognition of their qualifications.

Several respondents considered /AM operation should be pursued.