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All Commenters Urge FCC to Finalize Rules for Licensed Drone Spectrum

All groups and companies that filed urged the FCC to act on service rules allowing use of the 5030-5091 MHz band by drones. The FCC sought comment in a long-awaited January NPRM (see 2301040046), and comments were due Thursday in docket 22-232. Pilots, public safety agencies, NAB, the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF) and others raised concerns on how the FCC proceeds.

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The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) urged the FCC to restrict use of the band to control and non-payload communication (CNPC) by unmanned aircraft systems. Reserve the band for “those communications that are critical for safety-of-flight,” ALPA said. The number of drones in use “is already several times the size of the legacy aircraft fleet” and if projections are correct “likely to grow several times larger in the future,” the group said: Limiting use of the band will provide room for growth. ALPA also suggested giving priority to operations in FAA-controlled airspace in contact with air traffic control.

Providing protected spectrum for flight critical operations will afford safety and certainty for operators while also ensuring equity and improved access to the benefits of drone and remote pilot enabled use cases for rural and underserved communities, and other communities around the country,” said the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). Unlicensed spectrum is viable for some uses by drones, but “providing a licensed option” for CNPC “and for other safety critical capabilities that will rely on future certifiable data-sharing infrastructure, will continue to move the industry towards routine operations in all classes of airspace,” AUVSI said.

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council said if the use of the spectrum is restricted to just command and control, additional spectrum will be needed for drones. NPSTC noted public safety agencies are making broad use of UAS. “Sufficient spectrum to support reliable and secure control of UAS is extremely important,” the group said: “So is spectrum for a payload link over which information gathered by a UAS can be communicated back to a ground based receiver. Otherwise, launching a UAS for search and rescue, assessment of a wildland fire, support of a hostage incident or for numerous other operations provides little benefit.” NPSTC also urged that part of the band be reserved for public safety and critical infrastructure users.

Broadcasters use drones for electronic newsgathering and to cover live events, and the availability of licensed spectrum to support these and other … operations can help provide predictability and certainty for drone operators, particularly in areas of congested airspace,” NAB said. It urged the FCC to make clear that the availability of licensed spectrum for drones doesn’t preclude operations in other bands and consider frequency coordination requirements. “Dedicated spectrum for unmanned aircraft should supplement, not replace, existing spectrum,” broadcasters said.

CORF urged protection for radioastronomy, calling the 5 GHz band “a workhorse of the premier radio telescopes in the U.S.” The band “optimizes sensitivity while providing versatile access to a diversity of astrophysical emission mechanisms,” CORF said: “It is used to study an impressive range of astronomical phenomena, from galaxies to stars to black holes.”

Access to suitable spectrum will be an important component of supporting advanced and complex UAS operations, including enabling flights beyond visual line-of-sight and ensuring safe integration of UAS into the national airspace,” said the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance. NUAIR urged the FCC to look at other bands for use by drones. The alliance also urged dedicating a 20 MHz channel for UAS-to-UAS communications, supporting detect-and-avoid and collision avoidance technologies.

Qualcomm urged the FCC to allocate the band for both UAS-UAS communications and CPNC. Allowing communications between drones and network communications will “ensure safe, efficient, and reliable UAS operations, while incentivizing mobile network operators to integrate the band into their networks, providing broader support of the device ecosystem,” Qualcomm said: “The aviation industry and industry verticals will also stand to benefit from the transformational applications enabled by widespread UAS deployment in the 5030 MHz band.”

The High Altitude Platform Station Alliance sought an expedited rulemaking process to establish final rules and allowing operators “temporary protected access” to the band “or a portion of the band, during the period prior to full implementation of the rule.” The alliance noted “technical standards have already been developed for the 5030-5091 MHz band specifically to support reliable UAS CNPC.”

The Wireless Innovation Forum advised light-handed regulation. The WInnForum urged licensing “based on a spectrum usage rights method that has the minimum necessary technical restrictions to provide adequate protection against harmful interference.” Optimal use of spectrum is more likely “if the market, and not the regulator, decides what technology or service should be provided in a particular frequency band,” the group said.