Why Do You Need A Ham Radio License for Flying FPV Drones?

By Chuck Gysi

FPV Drones Using a Ham Radio License

By Chuck Gysi

FPV drones use wireless signals regulated by the FCC

Persons who fly drones with FPV, or first-person view, may be surprised to learn that they may need to obtain an amateur radio license in order to legally use an on-board video system during flights.

FPV, also known as remote-person view (RPV) and video piloting, allows a drone pilot to control the aircraft from an in-flight pilot’s viewpoint. The drone’s on-board camera is fed wirelessly to FPV goggles or a video monitor, allowing the operator to view its operation remotely while being in full control via radio signals.

The FCC establishes limits for power and frequency usage

The problem arises in that many FPV video systems are imported and don’t include certification by the Federal Communications Commission. They also may exceed power output for low-power use and will require a ham license in order to use the higher-power components. Only an FPV system that operates exclusively on amateur radio frequencies is legal to use under a ham radio license. The FCC says that if the device also is capable of operating on frequencies outside the amateur radio band, then the device is not allowed to be advertised, sold or operated in the United States or its territories without FCC certification. Typically these FPV systems operate on the 5.8-GHz band.

Ham radio allows legal first-person view flying

If you find that your video transmitter isn’t FCC type accepted for low-power use under Part 15 of its rules (it should display a label declaring such), then it is allowable only under FCC Part 97 ham radio rules. The good news is that it is relatively easy to obtain your ham license to use the device legally. After studying for the exam (check out Ham Radio Prep’s system to help you get your license), you need to answer only 26 out of 35 questions to pass the Technician class permit.

The FCC can issue fines for illegal FPV use

Don’t take your chances either! The FCC has issued a warning about drone video transmitters used for FPV service and states that such use can result in “substantial monetary penalties.” The agency also issued this statement: “The (Enforcement) Bureau will take very seriously any reports of failures of drone operators to comply with all relevant rules and requirements when using devices in the amateur bands.”

The good news is that FPV drone activity is a lot of fun and many enjoy being able to fly their drones from a pilot’s perspective. Getting your ham radio license is the safe way of ensuring your operation is legal and won’t cause interference to licensed radio services.