Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea Limited (Vi) have urged the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to bring aviation communications, which involves providing connectivity between ground stations and aircraft, under the unified licensing regime. The two telcos have also pushed for auctioning the airwaves used in these services. The move pits Jio and Vi against Geneva-based Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA), the leading provider of aviation communication services, which wants administrative allocation of such airwaves to continue.
In response to TRAI’s supplementary consultation paper titled “Data Communication Services Between Aircraft and Ground Stations Provided by Organisations Other Than Airports Authority of India (AAI)”, Jio and Vi have expressed that in the interest of uniformity in regulation and ensuring passenger safety, communication services related to aviation must be brought under a permanent regulatory oversight by inclusion of a new authorisation under the unified licence. In its submission, Jio said that the right to use such spectrum should only be by transparent auction and there should be no consideration of any other spectrum assignment methodology. Vi has stated that spectrum is a valuable and inexhaustible natural resource and has an element of public good. Thus, it is vital to ensure efficient management and use of spectrum as well as no loss to the national exchequer.
On the other hand, SITA has dismissed the telcos’ views in its response to the supplementary consultation paper. It said that the current practice of allotting frequencies under wireless operating permits to aviation communications service providers is adequate. Further, it stated that some airwaves within the 117.975-137 MHz band are reserved for specific uses such as tower and approach services, emergencies, operational control services etc., and not assignable to other communication service providers. SITA added that this spectrum band is allocated for aeronautical services managed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and auctioning it would jeopardise the operations of aircraft communication addressing and reporting system.
Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel did not comment on TRAI’s latest supplementary paper. However, in an earlier submission to the original consultation paper on the issue, the telco had opposed auctions and backed administrative allocation of airwaves to entities providing communication services between ground stations and aircraft, other than AAI, given the limited or restricted use of such airwaves.