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FAA Grounds FM Spectrum Interest

Aviation band sits next to broadcast FM band

The Federal Aviation Administration has renounced its proposed plans to get involved with FM spectrum allocation in the commercial/noncommercial radio band at 88–108 MHz. So reports Harry Cole at the CommLawBlog.

Cole notes that the FAA’s interest was not merely bureaucratic mission creep but had legitimate worries, since the aviation band, 108–137 MHz abuts broadcast radio so that interference might be possible and flight safety compromised.

Noting that the FAA’s effort raised some hackles at the FCC, he said, “It’s one thing for the FAA to regulate the height of towers and other structures that might get in the way of aircraft landing and taking off. It’s another for the FAA to assert that it can or should dictate the geographical areas in which certain radio frequencies may be operated.”

The camel’s nose would have been the “Determination of No Hazard” power. “It wanted to require, as part of its Determination of No Hazard process, notice of most any change to any station operating on a wide range of frequencies. New or modified structures that would hold RF generators using those frequencies, changes in channels, power increases of 3 dB or more, antenna modifications, etc., etc. — everything would have to go through the FAA first for its blessing. And without that blessing (in the form of a Determination of No Hazard), the change would not be permitted,” Cole writes.

However, in 2010 the agency began to have second thoughts, though it did not completely wash its hands of the idea, hoping for some kind of voluntary collaboration with the FCC on a sharing of authority agreement. Not surprisingly, the FCC never lifted a finger to offer to share its turf.

Cole points to a Jan. 20 letter from Ian Atkins, director, FAA Spectrum Engineering and Policy office, to the FCC’s Chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology Julius Knapp stating unequivocally that “the FAA is no longer pursuing the proposed frequency notification requirements for FM radio stations operating in the 88.0-108 MHz frequency band associated with that rulemaking.”

At least that seems to be the end. In Washington, turf and power are rarely ever settled.