I recently obtained a portable air band radio for use as a backup radio in flight. As this is a backup, it isn't much use without being tested. I'm trying to determine the proper way to test the radio. The FCC regulations clearly indicate that testing and maintenance is allowed so long as it does not interfere with actual usage of the frequency bands, but here is where it gets tricky, the regulations state that the licensee is allowed to test the radio, but most aircraft in the US no longer require a direct licensee as they don't require an explicit FCC license.

My take on this is that if you had an explicit aircraft station license, you could test the radio equipment even when it is not installed in the aircraft, however it is unclear how this maps to a pilot who has an air band radio they could use in an aircraft, but does not have an explicit aircraft license.

I realize this might be a bit too close to legal advice, but was wondering if anyone had any experience with this and what they found to be the proper procedure for testing the radio. I would just go and test it on my next flight, but there was also some documentation that requested not doing such tests from the ramp, so it's a bit unclear.

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    $\begingroup$ If you're in your plane at a controlled airport, and you call ground or whomever to check comm 1 and 2, why not just call in the same for comm 3? They're not going to care whether it's a portable or not. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Nov 30, 2021 at 5:39
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    $\begingroup$ @mins not sure the faa-regulations tag applies, this is more FCC regulations than FAA regulations, though I suppose there is some impact from FAA regulations in that the FCC regulations define "aircraft". $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2021 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnK - my concern about ramp checking is based from here: fcc.gov/aircraft-stations. Under operation it says "Shorten or eliminate test calls on the ramp or in flight." That might just be trying to encourage it not to be a "check every time" kind of thing, but they don't elaborate. It's why I'm tempted to lean more towards a radio check on CTAF, though I like the dummy load idea. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2021 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ "not sure the faa-regulations tag applies": That's not wrong. But there is no FCC tag. Possibly it's best to remove FAA nevertheless (I leave it to you to decide), I apologize for the edit. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Nov 30, 2021 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ @mins no worries, I had debated the same, and unless someone had looked at my network profile, I look like a pretty new user on here. (And I am still pretty new to the aviation stack specifically). No hard feelings, was just asking for clarification since it wasn't really clear if it was a good fit for that tag or not. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2021 at 18:10

1 Answer 1


Legally, the FCC’s “license[] by rule” applies to any FAA-licensed pilot in any FAA-registered plane within FAA-managed airspace. There is nothing saying the radio involved must be permanently mounted in the plane.

So, if you wanted to scrupulously comply with the law, just go down to the airport, sit in a plane and do your tests there.

Practically speaking, the FCC doesn’t care what happens on airband unless the FAA complains to them, and the FAA won’t complain unless you’re interfering with the safe, orderly and efficient flow of traffic. For instance, nobody cares if an instructor on the ramp uses a handheld radio to talk to their solo student in the pattern, even though that technically isn’t legal.

That said, if this radio is intended to be an airborne backup, you really do want to test it in an airborne plane. In particular, the metal skin of the plane can act like a Faraday cage, which will drastically reduce your range (unless you have an external antenna connection on the instrument panel), and the range of a handheld typically isn’t great to begin with. You need to see for yourself how bad this effect is in your plane with your radio. Also, learn the proper phraseology for relaying messages to/from ATC via another aircraft.

  • $\begingroup$ Good thought about that level of testing. For the moment I just wanted to make sure the transmitter was working at all, but it's a valid point that range may be impacted by the airplane itself. That said, even if the range ends up being poor, it should be better than nothing even if it only works in pretty close. (This particular one is reported to have the best range out of the radios I was able to find reviews for.) $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2021 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @AJHenderson “Best” in this context means “least horrible”, like claiming the “best” smelling farts. Expect to need an airborne relay. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Nov 30, 2021 at 20:36

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