FCC Gets Mixed Views on UAS Petition for Rulemaking

Some entities have criticized a petition for rulemaking filed by the Aerospace Industries Association seeking licensing and service rules for command and control of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the 5030-5091 megahertz band, while other parties support it.

The petition, which was filed in February, says that the FCC’s rules for control and non-payload communications (CNPC) operations should require individual licensing for UAS operators and says that the Commission should restrict the use of the UAS spectrum in the 5030-5091 MHz band to safety-of-life communications. In addition, the FCC should establish a frequency management system to assign spectrum and technical rules should be flexible, it says. The FCC also should regulate CNPC equipment under its part 87 rules and subject it to FCC equipment certification and RF exposure requirements, the petition says. The FCC also should modify its table of frequency allocations. The petition also asks the FCC to initiate CNPC link coordination with Canada and Mexico.

In comments filed in Rulemaking 11798, CTIA said that UAS operations “offer great promise in a variety of sectors, from infrastructure inspection and public safety to package delivery and mapping. In CTIA’s view, proposals made by the Aerospace Industries Association (‘AIA’) in its petition for service rules for the 5030-5091 MHz band (the ‘AIA Petition’) could compromise this potential. Before moving forward with the AIA Petition, the Federal Communications Commission (the ‘Commission’) should take account of the broader UAS context and consider approaches for the 5030-5091 MHz band and other potential UAS spectrum that are flexible, forward-looking, and technology-neutral. The right approach by the Commission will support the rapidly-evolving UAS industry.”

“As a threshold matter, the vague nature of the AIA Petition makes it unclear if AIA is suggesting either: (a) an overly broad approach that would require all UAS to utilize the 5030-5091 MHz band for command and control links under Part 87 rules; or (b) an extremely narrow approach, based on standards developed by the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (‘RTCA’), reserving this band only for UAS that are transitioning in and out of Class A airspace, above 18,000 feet,” CTIA added. “Additional clarity is needed, and the Commission should consider the following four additional issues before releasing an NPRM in this proceeding.

“First, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to UAS spectrum solutions, as UAS operations vary significantly and their spectrum needs are not homogenous. Networked cellular, satellite, other licensed and unlicensed bands and hybrid approaches, including the 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 1.7 GHz, 2.1 GHz and 5.9 GHz bands, are all available and suitable to meet the needs of UAS at varying altitudes. Although the AIA Petition does not acknowledge these other UAS spectrum options, it is imperative that the Commission [recognize] them, and does not impose use of the 5030-5091 MHz upon all UAS operators,” CTIA said.

“Second, the Commission should refrain from reserving the 5030-5091 MHz spectrum for specific operations and omitting others by exclusion. The Commission’s approach to UAS spectrum should be consistent with its approach to spectrum allocations and service rules generally, valuing flexibility and neutrality as to users and technologies. Technology-neutral rules do not require the Commission to determine possible future uses or users of the band, focusing instead on enabling industry to use spectrum innovatively as technology and use cases evolve. Technology-neutral rules are especially important for UAS, where the pace of technical evolution is accelerated,” CTIA continued.

“Third, the Commission should reject the AIA proposal to prohibit use of the 5030-5091 MHz band for UAS operations that are ‘non-safety’ and ‘non-route.’ Most categories of UAS anticipated today will not be flown along pre-determined routes. Neither the International Telecommunication Union (‘ITU’) nor the Commission included this prohibition in the recommendations or allocation for the band, and the Commission should not adopt service rules that have the effect of excluding the majority of UAS from the band,” the trade group said.

“Finally, the Commission should not, as AIA suggests, utilize Part 87 rules designed for manned aviation services to govern unmanned operations in the 5030-5091 MHz band, or any other band,” CTIA argued. “AIA justifies using Part 87 by stating that the band is allocated to Aeronautical Mobile Route Services (‘AM(R)S’). However, prior operations authorized for AM(R)S directly supported manned aviation. Application of Part 87 rules may be appropriate for the narrow UAS use cases envisioned by AIA’s members, but are not appropriate for most categories of UAS under development today. It is not appropriate to impose manned aviation requirements on operations that are, by their very definition, unmanned. A forthcoming NPRM in this proceeding would be the first opportunity for the Commission to develop service rules specifically for UAS. As the Commission moves forward, it is important that it not create precedent with the 5030-5091 MHz band, including regulation under Part 87, which would limit the use of other spectrum bands for UAS. Many UAS interests intend to use commercial wireless solutions to meet their spectrum needs. Implementation of the AIA Petition could have unintended consequences that would confuse the ability of UAS operators to use wireless services that are commercially available today.”

The Small UAV Coalition called the petition for rulemaking “premature.”

“While both industry and government authorities are taking steps to advance UAS operations, those efforts do not require, nor would they be helped … by[,] establishing a set of restrictive rules around UAS spectrum, as the petition seeks,” the coalition argued. “The petition asserts that ‘the moment is ripe for expeditious Commission action with respect to the adoption of licensing procedures and service rules for UAS CNPC links in the 5030-5091 MHz band.’ However, AIA’s discussion of the current state of UAS operations does not support that statement. In fact, the petition demonstrates that UAS integration into the NAS [national airspace system] is still very nascent. Therefore, the Commission can best serve those efforts by maintaining a flexible, light-touch approach to UAS spectrum.”

The coalition said it “agrees with the petition’s recommendation that the Commission’s ‘technical rules for CNPC links be flexible to support ongoing UAS development.’ But this necessary flexibility is not provided in the petition’s other recommendations, where a pause to allow this UAS development to mature further is appropriate. In sum, the Coalition respectfully requests the Commission deny the petition for rulemaking at this time, without prejudice to resubmitting a revised petition at a suitable time.”

But several entities filed comments supporting AIA’s petition.

“Without service rules for this spectrum, UAS manufacturers, operators, and developers such as Boeing lack regulatory guidance for their UAS development efforts,” The Boeing Company argued. “The absence of service rules also increases the risk that the United States will fall behind other countries in UAS innovation and integration. The Commission should therefore act expeditiously to adopt service rules for this spectrum. Arguments by some parties that such action should be delayed are unpersuasive and internally inconsistent.

“In adopting these rules for UAS operations in the 5030-5091 MHz band, the Commission should address three specific issues,” Boeing added. “First, the Commission should limit the use of the 5030-5091 MHz band to safety-of-life communications. During flight, Control and Non-Payload Communications (‘CNPC’) in the band will include transmission of operational information between the UAS and the individual operators — referred to as ‘pilots in command’ (‘PICs’) — as well as between UAS ground stations allowing indirect relayed communications between the UAS and the PICs, and between the PICs and airspace traffic control facilities in the vicinity. Because of the significant bandwidth required for these communications, Boeing concurs with the AIA that the Commission should prohibit non-safety-of-life communications in the 5030-5091 MHz band. Boeing also agrees with the AIA petition [that] the Commission should modify the U.S. Table of Frequency Allocations to reflect this allocation of the 5030-5091 MHz band for UAS safety-of-life transmissions.

“Second, the Commission should develop a dynamic frequency-assignment process to facilitate use of the spectrum by authorized PICs. Because the demand for spectrum access is likely to surpass supply, Boeing supports the AIA’s suggestion that the FCC implement a process by which PICs can request certain frequencies pre-flight and then release those frequencies for re-use by other PICs after a reasonable period of time,” the company said. “In order to facilitate real-time frequency assignments, the FCC should create one or more Frequency Assignment Managers who will coordinate efficient spectrum access and re-use of frequencies for multiple UAS across geographic areas.

“Third, the Commission should adopt the AIA’s recommendation to develop an FCC licensing framework that is aligned with FAA flight certification requirements,” according to Boeing. “Such a licensing framework will ensure that PICs operate under a Commission license, while also requiring that PICs be properly qualified by the FAA to operate UAS in the national airspace. Because of the significant public safety and security risks associated with the increased operation of UAS in the nation’s airspace, it is necessary that the Commission limit UAS operation to licensed PICs.”

Raytheon Company said, “The regulatory framework for access to the band for C2 [command and control] purposes must maximize spectrum efficiency and ensure effective coordination among all users. As the Petition notes, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (‘NTIA’) must coordinate all affected Federal stakeholders to develop a framework to authorize UAS C2 operations by Federal users that dovetails with that implemented by the FCC for non-federal UAS. Accordingly, each framework must account for both non-Federal and Federal operations, making a single mechanism potentially the most efficient. Raytheon believes that the regulatory framework described in AIA’s Petition, building upon work of the RTCA Special Committee 228 to develop Minimum Operational Performance Standards to support UAS operations within the national airspace, is a good starting point for consideration of CNPC licensing, operational, and spectrum access rules for UAS.

“Accordingly, Raytheon supports the prompt granting of the AIA Petition and the commencement of a proceeding to adopt rules that facilitate access by non-Federal UAS to [5030-5091] MHz for command and control operations in a coordinated fashion with access by non-Federal systems,” the company added in its filing.

“The AIA Petition makes a compelling case for the use of Minimum Operational Performance Standards (‘MOPS’), as developed by RTCA’s Special Committee 228 on which Lockheed Martin serves, as the basis for integrating C-band C2 equipment into the NAS,” said Lockheed Martin Corp., which is a AIA member. “By extension, it is reasonable that the Commission should base its own rules for terrestrial BLOS [beyond line of sight] operations on the recommendations that RTCA stakeholders consented to in the development of those MOPS and in the forthcoming Minimum Aviation System Performance Standards (‘MASPS’). Lockheed Martin is furthermore optimistic about the ongoing RTCA work to develop the next phase of MOPS to identify operational requirements to utilize C-band satellite resources for C2. This proposed end-to-end communications solution – from the ground at aircraft launch through cruising altitude over long distances – will provide regulatory certainty that is essential to the development of the industry and ensures the safe integration of approved, certified equipment into the NAS.”

Lockheed Martin encouraged “the FCC to develop at this juncture a flexible licensing and service framework that could readily be expanded to implement the next phase of the RTCA MOPS and permit uninterrupted C2 services in support of both long-endurance and long-distance flight missions.”

Elefante Group, Inc. , said, “The regulatory framework described in AIA’s Petition represents a good starting point for the adoption of licensing and operational rules for UAS for CNPC, including C2 communications between ground systems and the STRAPS contemplated by Elefante Group to support SBCS [stratospheric-based communications service]. The Commission should make clear that the UAS that are permitted to use the C-Band for CNPC include STRAPS [stratospheric airborne platforms] (and their associated ground systems). Large, unmanned STRAPS clearly meet the definition of UAS, and C2 communications during their ascent and descent qualify as safety-of-life communications. Therefore, SBCS operators should be entitled to access the C-Band for CNPC under the frequency management and assignment process the Commission adopts for the 5030-5091 MHz range. The adoption of licensing and operational rules for UAS C2 will help ensure the timely deployment of SBCS in this country.”

Working Group 2 of RTCA’s Special Committee SC-228 also expressed support for the petition for rulemaking.

Integrity Communications Solutions Inc. said, “The proposed rules from AIA are a starting point for spectrum use and management. With Integrity’s history of Satellite Communications spectrum allocation and management, Integrity believes that an agile and a predetermined automated process is vital to allowing the BVLOS [beyond visual line of sight] to [excel] and rapidly advance in the industry, while operating in an architecture that is fully scalable beyond what historical allocations, such as the FAM process for approval currently supports. Though protocol architecture may not be the genesis of this topic, Integrity wants to ensure a scalable architecture is being considered, such that BVLOS advancements are scalable. Integrity would propose the commission consider that using an existing specification such as IEEE 1609.2 could prevent stove piping BVLOS operations. Consideration of autonomy certification should factor into spectrum rules. A higher level of autonomy requires less bandwidth for safety of flight allowing more concurrent drone operations in one location. Additionally, for scalable allocation purposes, the application of priority rules, while utilizing a dynamic bandwidth allocation technique need to be considered as part of the rule sets for UAS Command and control frequency allocation.”- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily