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I would like to purchase a simple airband radio receiver to compliment my taking photos in and around my local airfield and international airport. Although I'm working towards it, I'm no pilot and, as of yet, do not possess any radio telephony qualification. I am no terrorist and have no criminal record and my only intent is to LISTEN and NOT TRANSMIT.
Having enquired at a local radio shop, I was informed that there was no need to obtain any certification of any kind. On AVCOM, however, I've noticed a few heated debates surrounding the legality of listening in to ATC communications and the contradicting regulations pertaining to the monitoring of ATC for "casual" use.
With no definitive conclusion to be found, my question is: Is it possible for a die-hard-aviation-enthusiast to purchase a radio-receiver and monitor ATC "chatter" for recreational purposes without having to obtain some kind of certification and, if not, what type of certification is required?
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I think this topic was discussed under another thread which is perhaps why there appears to have been no response on this one. If I'm wrong, then I apologise for missing it.
Currently the only legal, and relatively simple, way of doing what you propose is for you to be a qualified pilot, or student pilot on a recognised and verifiable training programme, in possession of either a radio licence for an aircraft station or a radio licence for an aeronautical mobile, either of which would authorise you to monitor the respective aeronautical frequencies.
There is another way to do it but it carries no guarantees of being granted the necessary permission, and that is to apply direct to ICASA for a written authority to be in possession of radio equipment capable of receiving the aeronautical frequencies. Your application should be very well motivated regarding the need for such an authority to be issued and should at least include proof of membership of a recognised "plane spotter" organisation or club. As mentioned, approval is not guaranteed, but the more supporting documentation which you can provide, the better your chances. What would probably be of most benefit in formalising this option is official, written support from the industry itself, perhaps from RAASA or the DCA. Individual applications will invariably be treated as such, and their success will largely depend on how well they are motivated, whereas a properly structured and organised approach, supported by official representation from the industry, may result in a new class of licence or authority being introduced for which a much simplified application process is required. A precedent was set some years ago with the introduction of the Amateur Radio Listener's Licence, which authorises interested persons to listen to the various Amateur radio bands and the traffic carried thereon. No examination is required for this licence, merely an application and payment of the relevant fees. However, the licence when issued, in common with all other licences, is subject to various conditions of a local and international nature, one of the most important being the requirements of Article 17 of the International Telecommunication Union Radio Regulations, 2012, which I quote here in full:
Article 17 - Secrecy
17.1 In the application of the appropriate provisions of the Constitution and the Convention, administrations bind themselves to take the necessary measures to prohibit and prevent:
17.2 a) the unauthorized interception of radiocommunications not intended for the general use of the public;
17.3 b) the divulgence of the contents, simple disclosure of the existence, publication or any use whatever, without authorization of information of any nature whatever obtained by the interception of the radiocommunications mentioned in No. 17.2.
In other words, you can listen yourself, provided you are licensed to do so, but you can't tell anyone else what you hear and you can't even tell them you are listening!
It has been mentioned on this forum that an Amateur listener's licence authorises you to listen on the aeronautical bands. This is not correct, it only authorises the holder to listen to comms on the Amateur bands. Currently the only methods of monitoring comms on the aeronautical bands are as discussed above and even those are subject to the secrecy regs as indicated.