Stated differently: As an aviator, what benefits do I receive from the radio frequencies used by my avionics and ATC being designated "aeronautical protected spectrum" as opposed to just regular licensed spectrum?

I understand that international harmonization around what is considered aeronautical protected spectrum occurs at ICAO. I also understand that in the United States (and most other countries), radio frequency spectrum is considered a public good, and thus owned by the state. Users of spectrum (e.g. cell phone service providers) receive licenses to use a certain part of the spectrum, but ownership remains with the government.

What I don't understand is what happens when a spectrum band is considered "Aeronautical Protected Spectrum:

  • Does the designation mean it can't be licensed to a private entity (i.e. it has to be used by the government for purposes of providing aeronautical services)?
  • If it can be licensed, how is that licensing different than a license that a cell phone provider would receive for their spectrum band?

EDIT: I understand the benefits of being protected vs unprotected; see Michael's answer. Cell phone spectrum is licensed to the cell phone company and unlawful broadcasting in that spectrum is prosecuted as well, but it isn't aeronautical specturm.

  • $\begingroup$ Note: public good doesn't mean owned by public authorities. Just that when there are not enough resources for all, restrictions are applicable. E.g. on very high frequencies (as generic term, not just VHF) were free until there were need to use them (and the top part is still free). In any case, it is just notation: FCC do not uses such notation: transition.fcc.gov/oet/spectrum/table/fcctable.pdf (page 21). For me it is more for aviation only and not just also for aviation (and possibly: internationally decided, not by single countries). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 11 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ In this context, "protected" likely means "can claim protection from harmful interferences from other users", this is related to band sharing. This is possible only when the band is allocated by ITU as a primary user. Allocation is done on a regional basis. E.g. other users cannot claim protection in this weather radar band shared with Earth exploration satellites, but see also, e.g. footnotes page 7-44. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Mar 12 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ "in the United States (and most other countries), radio frequency spectrum is considered a public good, and thus owned by the state". Radio frequencies are solely allocated by the UN, namely its ITU agency, and do not belong to anyone. ITU members agree on the allocation of frequencies on WRC conferences each three/four years. In the US FCC manages the spectrum allocated by ITU to the US. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Mar 12 at 8:54

1 Answer 1


Aeronautical spectrum must be used for aeronautical uses. Specific slices of aeronautical spectrum must be used for specific aeronautical uses. Only those licensed to do so are permitted to use part of the spectrum.

This is just like any other protected part of the spectrum. There's nothing special about it.

  • $\begingroup$ "Aeronautical spectrum must be used for aeronautical uses", there is no absolute "aeronautical spectrum", some bands allocated to aeronautical services are also allocated to other users. Protection can be claimed or not, depending on the status of the users. Bands are also allocated on a regional basis, not on a WW basis. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Mar 12 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ @mins I don't mean to imply that no bands used for aeronautical purposes have other allowed uses. My point is that aeronautical spectrum is not special at all- just like any band of spectrum it can be used for allowed purposes and not for others. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 18 at 2:06

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