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Telcos spar with aviation industry over licensing of aircraft to ground station data communication

The aviation industry is at odds with telecom operators on the issue of potentially bringing aircraft to ground station communication under telecom licensing framework. Responding to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation on Data Communication Services between aircraft and ground stations provided by organisations other than the Airports Authority of India, telcos want to bring communication between aircraft and ground station under the unified telecom licensing framework. Meanwhile, members of the aviation industry do not want a service licensing regime or at best a light licensing regime.

Communication between aircraft and ground stations is usually handled by the AAI under the Ministry of Civil Aviation. However, in some cases, private IT companies — Société Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques, (SITA) and  Bird Consultancy Services (BCS) — are also used to operate data communication link between aircraft and ground stations. These private operators have asked the DoT for the permission to expand their service to additional airports, which prompted the consultation process. The Centre was concerned that these IT companies were providing services that are potentially commercial in nature. 

Telecom operators argue that data communications should become part of the unified licensing framework, owing to their commercial nature. Bharti Airtel said: “We recommend to create a simple and consistent unified licensing framework for such data communication services. A proper licensing framework will ensure a level-playing field in terms of a service that uses spectrum.”

According to Reliance: “Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting system (ACAR) is a critical telecommunication service for sircraft and passenger safety, and should be brought under permanent regulatory oversight, instead of adhoc permission-approval methodology in prevalence.”

Therefore, according to Jio, it is imperative that data communications between ground stations and aircraft be brought under the unified licensing regime.

However, bodies such as International Air Transport Association argue that licensing and auction process will increase service fees of these services and compromise on aviation safety. “IATA believes that there is no need to bring Aircraft-Ground Station Data Communication services under the licensing regime. A licensing regime or an auction price method to assign VHF licences will likely cause an increase in fees for said services, which are critical for aviation safety. The passthrough of any such increased costs to the airlines and passengers may negatively impact the overall safety,” said IATA.

AAI added that there should be a separate service licence, instead of the unified licensing regime. Additionally, the licensing regime should be light

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