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How To Get an FCC License

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In aviation, we spend a lot of time discussing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the associated rules and regulations. But there are other agencies and rules at play sometimes.

One of those times is when you use aviation radios. Radios fall under the regulatory guidelines of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the FCC regulates what radios can transmit and who can operate them. 

FCC License Definitions 

The FCC is the government regulator for broadcasting over the airwaves. You might know them as the folks who regulate radio and television stations, HAM or amateur radio enthusiasts, or cell phone companies. 

The licensing we are discussing here is a very small part of what a large government organization does. And having little experience with them, finding the right forms you need is a challenge. It helps to look at things from the FCCs perspective. For example, here are two types of FCC licenses that might need to be clarified.

Operator–Someone who transmits over a radio. Think of a pilot in a plane, an airport authority worker inspecting runways, or a controller in the tower.

FCC Radio Operator License for Pilots

There is an important exception, and it means that many pilots don’t need this license. You don’t need the license if you only use a standard VHF radio and never make foreign flights.

The FCC Commercial Radio Operator License comes in different grades. Pilots can operate the radio with a lesser grade certificate, called the “Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RR).” This license is for most aircraft, aeronautical ground stations, and marine radiotelephone stations on pleasure vessels.

There is no testing requirement for the Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit. To be eligible, you must be a legal resident or eligible for employment in the US, be able to speak and hear, be able to keep a written log, and be familiar with the applicable laws, treaties, and rules that apply to radio stations. 

Suppose you are not legally eligible for employment in the US but need the license to operate the equipment associated with a valid FCC radio station license. In that case, you can apply for a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit with Limited Use (RL).

Getting the license simply requires finding the right sections on the FCC website, filling out the right forms, and paying the right fees. In 2023, the fee was $35. Once issued, it is a lifetime license that never expires. 

How to Apply for an FCC License

Unfortunately, the FCC seems to like acronyms and abbreviations even more than the FAA! The form is a minefield of letters, so use care when filling it out and double-check that you’re applying for the correct license.

All license applications start with the same FCC Form 605. You can download the most current PDF of the form from the FCC website, which will include instructions for filling it out. The FCC calls this the “main form” or the “quick form” on their website. Once you’ve got Form 605, you’ll need to find the correct schedule for the type of license you request. For example, commercial Operator and Restricted Radiotelephone licenses are covered on FCC 605 Schedule E. 

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