Runway vehicle monitoring in the fray as FCC mulls rules waiver

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US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) officials are seeking comment on a request to permit certain airports to obtain licenses to use the frequency 1090 MHz for runway vehicle identification and collision avoidance.

Frequency 1090 MHz is currently used for air-to-ground communications in the Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon System, a system of ground-based transmitters that interrogate airborne transponders for secondary air traffic control surveillance; and air-to-air communications in the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS), an airborne warning system designed to avert mid-air collisions.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on 18 May filed a request to the FCC for a waiver of certain portions of its regulations governing the frequency. The NTIA is an agency in the US Department of Commerce that is principally responsible for advising the President on telecommunications and information policies.

In a request for comment on the NTIA's request for a waiver, the FCC points out that the US FAA has introduced the use of airport surface detection equipment to address growing concerns about the potential for airplane and service vehicle collisions on airport runways.

"While air traffic controllers are currently utilizing this technology to manage the movement of aircraft on the airport surface, other vehicles such as snowplows, emergency vehicles and maintenance vehicles that routinely operate on the runway movement area are not currently monitored in the same manner, and therefore are not as quickly identified by air traffic control (ATC)," says the FCC, which is seeking comment until 17 August on whether to grant the waiver requested by NTIA.

In parallel to this procedure, the FCC is considering NTIA's 13 November 2008 petition for rulemaking requesting formal amendments to use the frequency 1090 MHz for runway vehicle identification and collision avoidance.

NTIA stated in its rulemaking petition that use of frequency 1090 MHz to identify vehicles transiting within the runway movement area would expedite the development and deployment of vehicle identification capabilities because aircraft are already equipped to transmit on 1090 MHz, so ATC facilities already are equipped to receive the signals.

The FAA anticipates that airports with pressing needs to improve runway safety will seek to implement equipment prior to the completion of a rulemaking proceeding. Consequently, says the FCC, NTIA requests an interim waiver to permit the use of frequency 1090 MHz by aeronautical utility mobile stations at airports that have or are scheduled to receive airport surface detection equipment (ASDE-X) multilateration systems or automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) equipment.

The NTIA's petition for rulemaking remains pending.