Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as drones or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems, could bring significant innovations to several industries, ultimately delivering benefits to consumers and citizens.
Wireless communications, and hence the use of radio spectrum, are essential to the operation of drones.
One of Ofcom responsibilities is to manage the UK’s radio spectrum. We have been working with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and with stakeholders to review our framework for authorising equipment that can be used on a drone, to help enable the development of this emerging industry.
Drones currently use spectrum designated for model aircraft or Wi-Fi which do not require a Wireless Telegraphy Act licence, as these devices have been exempted from needing one by Ofcom.
However, this regime is not suitable for some of the emerging use cases which would involve drones flying at higher altitudes and over longer ranges, sometimes going beyond visual line of sight. This is due to power limitations of the licence-exempt devices that they use.
We are proposing to introduce a new spectrum licence for drone operators, especially those looking to fly beyond visual line of sight using mobile or satellite technologies. Our proposed Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Operator Radio licence would authorise the licensed operator to use a range of technologies on their UAS/drone fleet that are not currently permitted today, including:
• mobile and satellite terminals for control and transmission of data and video; and
• safety equipment to enable the UAS to avoid collisions and integrate safely into the UK’s airspace.
The proposed licence would cover a range of equipment that an operator may choose to use or be required to carry by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). If a licensee wishes to use a mobile technology that connects to a public mobile network they will need, before doing so, to obtain permission from the operator of the network they wish to use. We are proposing that the licence would be subject to an annual fee of £75.
Our proposed licence would not replace the current licence exemption regime for low power 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz equipment which most drones on the market currently fall under today.
In addition to a licence to use the spectrum, operators will continue to need to adhere to any air safety requirements regarding the operation of their UAS set by the CAA, the UK’s aviation regulator.
Stakeholders are invited to respond by 5 September 2022.