At last, the aviation industry has woken up to the fact that it no longer has a birthright to all of the radio frequencies it had assumed belonged to it forever. Radio frequencies are valuable commodities, especially to mobile satellite service (MSS) companies, keen to expand their services and profits in the highly competitive telecom industry.

It always takes a crisis to unite an industry and a crisis is exactly what the aviation community faces if it loses its radio frequencies - crucial for aeronautical communications and satellite navigation developments - to MSS operators at the forthcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC). Previously, outside the industry, and even within it, there has been poor understanding of the importance of frequencies, and the role they play in air safety. Now, understanding has increased, largely thanks to IATA and ICAO's efforts to protect aviation's frequencies. If they are not protected, they argue, the safe growth of air transport which underpins economic prosperity will be undermined, to the detriment of everyone.

Whether the war-cry from the aviation community will be enough has yet to be seen. What is vital is that the latest attack on the aeronautical frequency spectrum must spur the industry to maintain a united front to protect its frequencies and encourage it to use them efficiently rather than simply waging its war in the run-up to every WRC. True, the industry has partly brought the problem on itself through its inefficient use of the spectrum, jumping, for example, from one communication/landing system to the next. But now the industry is clear that satnav holds the key to reducing congestion and improving safety and it is satnav that faces the greatest threat.

Aviation cannot assume that the world's telecom authorities will protect aeronautical frequencies to ensure a safe and efficient air transport system rather than boosting the profits of MSS operators. The aviation industry has a long-term fight on its hands and it's a fight it must pull together for and win.

Source: Flight International