Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Ofcom Sanctions Free Radiosignal strength
Thursday 24 September, 2009, 14:12 - Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
Well who would have thought it! According to many pages on the subject across the internet, hang gliders have a special arrangement with Ofcom to allow them easy access to various radio frequencies without needing a licence! Yes, apparently a chap called Rod Buck, the then radio officer of the British Hang Gliding and Parachute Association (BHPA) reached an 'agreement' with the Radiocommunications Agency some years ago (must have been quite some years as the Agency was disbanded in 2003) that they could use a set of radio frequencies for air to air and air to ground communications and as long as they stuck to them the Agency would 'turn a blind eye'.

What are these frequencies? 143.750 to 143.950 MHz in 25 kHz steps. If you don't believe me, take a look here. The top of this frequency range, 143.950 MHz, is the unofficial calling channel and from the Wireless Waffle HQ it is alive most days with chitter chatter from enthusiasts dodging in and out of planes, talking about the weather and checking out possible landing sites.

hang glider interferenceNow it's true to say that the use of radio when airborne presents lots of safety benefits, and it's clear from much of the communication that goes on that the guys dipping and diving around are helping each other out. But there are official frequencies for this purpose. The problem with these official frequencies is that the equipment required to use them is expensive and a licence must be obtained (albeit at just 75 per year), whereas the unofficial frequencies come at no charge and equipment can be had from certain on-line auction sites for less than 50 all sold.

Notwithstanding the safety benefits though, the use of these frequencies is, to all intents and purposes, illegal. There is plenty of illegal frequency usage around, from pirate broadcasters to Brazilian satellite hijackers but in all these cases, if the user suffers from interference due to a legitimate user then there is really no harm done as the user's use of radio is not in any way safety related (this is not to say that the legitimate user does not suffer, just that the suffering of the illegitimate user is largely inconsequential). In the case of hang gliders, however, the situation is very different. If they suffer from interference then the implication is that air safety (and possibly even safety of life) is compromised which is quite a big deal when you think about it.

One forum post states:
These frequencies are not currently used or allocated elsewhere, so you won't interfere with anyone else.

radiation causes mutationThat's not strictly true. The frequencies are actually allocated, in the UK, for 'Land Mobile' services, though at an international (ITU) level they are allocated for Off-Route (eg Military) Aeronautical Mobile use. According to the UK frequency allocation table (FAT) the band 143 to 144 MHz is set-aside for emergency service use. In terms of actual frequencies assignments, it is fair to say that they do seem to be few and far between in this frequency range though there is some evidence to suggest that the US Air Force as well as the Metropolitan Police in London use the frequencies, and that they may well be some of the emptier frequencies being considered to alleviate demand for spectrum during the 2012 London Olympics.

Anyway, given the agreement that these users are supposed to have have reached with the regulatory authorities, we here at Wireless Waffle feel that there is plenty of scope to apply the same approach to some other areas of regulation too.

colourful wiring* Allow electric cars to use either side of the road, as long as they keep their lights turned off and aren't painted a bright colour.
* Let children cross railway lines (including level crossings) at any time if they are standing near nettles, or being chased by bees, wasps or other stingy things.
* Permit short people to set fire to whatever they like but only if the device used to start the fire can be hidden if anyone approaches.
* Encourage demolition crews to trigger explosions more straightforwardly by simply shining a green torch at the detonator.
* Allow mains wiring in all new houses to be any colour the electricial likes, as long as it fits with the painter's colour scheme.
* Make sure that all knives sold to people weighing under 154 lb (70 kg), of whatever age, are longer than 18 inches and lethally sharp.
* Inform aircraft to keep from crashing into each other by communicating using semaphore and old tin-cans.

Oh, hang on, apparently the Radiocommunications Agency have secretly agreed the last of these with the Civil Aviation Authority. We await the small print of the manifestos of the various political parties at the next election with great interest to see if any other of our other ideas come to fruition or what else the good folk of the UK will be allowed to get away with. Actually, it's pretty clear why aircraft and hang gliders are allowed to act illegaly and not get prosecuted: they are above the law!
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