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I bought a handheld portable radio capable of transmitting in the air band and I was wondering if I can request a radio check to the ATC to see if the radio works properly. I know it's illegal to talk over those frequencies unless you're an aircraft (or at least I suppose it is), but I wonder if it's ok in this case.

If it's ok to use that channel just to test the radio, what's the best way to go about it? Just "Radio check"? Or "<Airport> tower/ground, radio check"? Or should I acknowledge the fact that I'm not an aircraft with something like "<Airport> tower/ground, on the ground with a portable radio, radio check"? Thanks

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a radio license? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ No I don't. To add more color, I'm a student pilot so I do plan to use my radio legally (if necessary). $\endgroup$
    – fab
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ Please indicate what jurisdiction you are in. The radio rules are quite different between different countries. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 1:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'd add that even with a (ham) radio license, most if not all countries would consider this illegal. You're free to receive any frequency, but to transmit in certain frequency bands, you need a proper license for that frequency. $\endgroup$
    – jayded-bee
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ @jayded-bee there is a difference between "legal" and "illegal but they probably won't catch you". Look what the British government did to Alan Turing. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 20:51

4 Answers 4

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I think there's a technicality here. Both the operator and the radio station each need, independently, an FCC license. The operator license requirement has been waived for pilots for a long time, and in 1996 the requirement for the plane to have a station license was dropped so long as the airplane is in US airspace. When you operate a handheld in the plane, you are operating a second radio within the same station (the airplane) so you are covered on both counts.

The problem is outside the plane you are not operating in a licensed or license-waived station, so you would need a station license for the radio, AND you'd need a restricted radio-telephone operator's permit because you don't fall under the pilot waiver because you're not flying a plane.

Virtually ANY ATC facility will not know any of this and will almost certainly give you a radio check. It would be a very rare circumstance that anyone would call you out. I wouldn't do it on clearance delivery at O'Hare, but elsewhere it's unlikely anyone will care. Unlikely they'd even ask for a tail number if you said "Rochester Ground, how do you read?"

But as the previous poster points out, it is technically illegal and can have consequences. I have both FCC and FAA licenses and I too have heard of people being convicted for transmitting on public service frequencies. So I'll clarify... If you are a pilot, AND you are at the airport, and you are making a legitimate radio check, it is technically prohibited but you would have some latitude that a layperson would not. But if you are not a licensed pilot to begin with, it's probably not the best idea.

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The key is in a comment to the original question:

I'm a student pilot so I do plan to use my radio legally (if necessary).

which leads to two possible answers:

1 - Talk to your instructor. They should be familiar with procedures for handling this.

2 - Use it on a plane. Bring it with you on a flight. Then test it from inside the plane, which should be legitimate as you are then testing it as a backup radio for legitimate use, and can actually identify yourself as a pilot of an actual aircraft if questioned.

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    $\begingroup$ Test it in the plane, while on ground, just to avoid any potential issues, like student task saturation, interference due to faulty equipment or any of the potentially complicating factors not needed when airborne. $\endgroup$
    – vhu
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 17:53
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Yes. You will be just fine. I’ve done it many many times before.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you elaborate in your answer? E.g., in what jurisdiction were you in? What licenses did you have? What were some (example) circumstances (at home? at an airport? Time of day? Purpose of the test? Etc.)? Distance to the ATC tower? What was the transmit power level? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 8:55
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    $\begingroup$ This is in the US. I can’t imagine any controller else where in the world would have such a stick up his @ss as to be annoyed by such a request. This is being done insure that one can establish two way communications, and only a real idiot/goon would complain about such a thing. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ @CarloFelicione You should edit your answer to include this information, rather than separating it from your answer in a comment. $\endgroup$
    – cjs
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 8:21
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    $\begingroup$ Are we trying to set a record for just how pedantic and puerile we can be here in the comments? It's ridiculous, and reflects poorly on our community. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 19:13
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Ground stations have to be licensed to transmit on ATC frequencies. To get a license you will need to have a legitimate reason for the use of the radio. Until then, do not transmit on ATC frequencies. During my career, a man got a year in federal prison for the unauthorized use of a portable radio. It is considered interference with the ATC system.

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    $\begingroup$ Was he a pilot doing legitimate aviation-related stuff? Or some rando interfering with aviation safety? $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ Rando interference $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ Well, there you go. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ @RetiredATC by requesting spurious radio checks? $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 19:37

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