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Suppose I'm doing some plane spotting, and I see a dangerous situation that I think needs to be brought to the attention of a pilot or ATC (such as a tire falling off an airplane, an engine fire, etc.). I have a handheld aviation radio tuned, so I know that nobody's reported it. Would it be permissible for me to use that radio to call it in? How would I identify myself since I'm not in a plane and therefore have no tail number? Would I have to identify myself at all?

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    $\begingroup$ One problem you face is that you do not have a radio license that permits you to transmit on that band. In many countries, these license are explicitly granted to pilots. In the U.S., I believe radio licenses are usually implicitly granted along with the pilot's license. But you have to have one (legally). $\endgroup$ Oct 11, 2022 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ Pilots operating domestically in the USA are exempt from FCC permitting/licensing, it is an exemption not an implicit license. US pilots must obtain an FCC radio operators permit before flying internationally. The aircraft itself may have some station license requirements, but I am not an owner so never looked into it. $\endgroup$
    – Max Power
    Oct 12, 2022 at 3:14

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You can, and should, use any means necessary to render assistance that might be needed in an emergency and not worry about lack of an FCC ground station license stopping you. However, good judgement is needed to discern the severity, level of help needed or wanted, and the value your transmission might provide.

For example, I would be extremely reluctant to key the mic on a heavy Airbus at a major airport on tower freq if they are trailing a little smoke because it's likely they have cockpit indications already, and you'd probably get a whole lot of unwanted attention afterwards. But if I were at a small rural non-towered field on Unicom I wouldn't hesitate for a second to transmit "Bonanza on final, your right main gear is NOT down!"

I can't speak as to how the FCC might view your actions, but knowing that the CFRs allow a PIC to deviate from any regulation to the extent needed to meet the emergency, and that many states have Good Samaritan laws to protect people from being persecuted for helping others in distress, I would rather have a clear conscience and take action in good faith than cower in the face of potential repercussions.

Oh, to answer your last question, (and to mitigate those FCC repercussions...) I would probably just NOT identify myself. ;)

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    $\begingroup$ The FCC would actually not smile on this at all. (I’m also a lm amateur radio and commercial radio operator licensee.) There was a case some time ago where a ham radio operator used his radio to make a bona fire emergency call on a frequency he was not licensed for. He was revoked by the FCC and was ultimately convicted. The court acknowledged that it was a bona fide emergency, but held that Good Samaritan doctrine did not apply. No jail time, but his minor fine and license revocation were upheld. $\endgroup$
    – Max R
    Oct 12, 2022 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Max - That's your government in action... Good to know, and a good reason to not identify yourself. Personally I would give up a stupid license to save a life. (especially if I was unlicensed to begin with!) $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2022 at 2:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Max do you have a source for the "revoked after an emergency" story? $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2022 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ But 97.403, reporting on behalf of the public safety or safety of others, has an elevated standard of “normal communication systems are not available.” It seemed insane to us that he was cited, but it was noteworthy enough that the ARRL sent a communication out about it and we discussed that communication at our club meeting, that’s how I remember the timeframe. There are many, many things in life that you can do 100 times… 90 times no one cares, 9 times someone escalates it but it ultimately blows over… and one time in 100 the snake bites. $\endgroup$
    – Max R
    Oct 12, 2022 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Given all the comments and other references maybe it's better to leave as-is. As a general rule regulatory bodies have jurisdiction over licensees, and enforcement actions are limited to revocation of licenses for failing to adhere to the terms of the "contract". Which is motivation enough for those interested in keeping their license. However, I think it would require a higher legal standard for an agency to pursue criminal action against an unlicensed individual, and they would probably have to prove negligence or that harm was done. But that's a better question for Law SE. $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2022 at 19:07

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