OfW 311 - Radio-controlled models

26 July 2010

This information sheet serves two purposes. Firstly, it answers the basic questions about the frequencies and technical restrictions that apply to the operation of radio-controlled models. Secondly, it explains the application of the R&TTE Directive to model control equipment, in respect of marketing equipment or bringing new equipment into use.

1 What are radio-controlled models?

The EU harmonised decision 2013/752/EU for Short Range Devices (SRD) defines model control as “Model control devices are a specific kind of telecommand and telemetry radio equipment that is used to remotely control the movement of models (principally miniature representations of vehicles) in the air, on land or over or under the water surface.”

There are two types of radio controlled models: those that operate primarily on the ground or on water, known as "surface" models; and those that are airborne. Typically, radio control is used for model cars, ships (including steam, motor vessels and yachts) and aircraft.

Many toy radio controlled models tend to operate either at 2.4 GHz or at 49 MHz, where a small band exists for general-purpose low-power radio devices. Technical details of these bands are specified in the UK Interface Requirement IR2030/1 series, IR2030/7/1 and IR2030/23 series.  These can be obtained from the Ofcom website at IR 2030.

2. Do I need a licence to operate model control equipment?

The use of the specific frequencies used for model control is exempt from the requirement to hold a Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 (WT Act) providing that the apparatus meets the conditions of the IR2030.  In addition the equipment must be lawfully CE marked and comply with all relevant EU directives.  Apparatus that complies with the totality of the regulations do not require a licence to operate.

Use of equipment that does not meet the conditions of the licence exemption is an offence under the WT Act. The WT Act contains a number of criminal offences prosecuted by Ofcom. Some offences relating to unauthorised use of radio can attract fines of up to £5000 and/or ’ six months’ imprisonment.  The courts can also confiscate anything used in connection with the offence.

3. Can I use an Amateur Radio licence for model control including airborne use?

No. Amateur Radio is a service intended to allow hobbyists and enthusiasts to experiment with radio. As licensed Radio Amateurs may operate transmitters at relatively high power levels in various frequency bands, the licence is available only to those who have demonstrated the necessary competence by studying for and passing a special examination.

We receive a number enquiries from those (principally non-amateurs) who wish to fly radio-controlled aircraft, such as quad-copters, fitted with video cameras (used to view the ground from the aircraft or to provide First Person View (FPV) to aid the control of the aircraft.).

There is a belief that the use of higher power equipment can be authorised by applying for an Amateur Radio licence. This is wrong. Amateur Radio licence expressly prohibits use in any aircraft or airborne vehicle.  This restriction is not relaxed for, radio-controlled models, aeroplanes and balloons.

4. What technical conditions for model control and UAV have to be met?

All model control equipment must operate within the frequency bands shown above and the effective radiated power of the equipment must not exceed that shown alongside the frequency band in the table above.

These technical conditions are laid down in the Regulations, which have exempted model control from licensing. The Regulations also contain other conditions; most importantly, model control equipment must not cause undue interference to other wireless telegraphy equipment. Full details of the Interface Requirement (IR2030) governing Model control and all other Short Range Devices can be found on the Ofcom website at IR2030.

5. Enforcement of regulations

To ensure Ofcom best serves consumers’ needs it broadly prioritises it efforts and resources when responding to reports of interference or market abuse. The first priority is safety of life services, the second other safety related business radio followed by the remainder.

Ofcom defines the priorities of model control equipment enforcement as:

  • ensuring that non-compliant radio equipment is kept off the market;
  • ensuring that the use of radio and radio frequencies throughout the spectrum conforms to licence requirements (licence exemption regulations); and
  • investigating and taking action to prevent undue interference.

Ofcom’s Field Operations teams are located throughout the country and are happy to provide local advice including assistance to ensure users stay within the law. Ofcom has the power to take enforcement action against people who: cause interference; use inappropriate equipment; and place non-compliant equipment on the UK market. Penalties for breaches of the Wireless Telegraphy regulations range from informal warnings, formal cautions, through to fines and imprisonment.

Full details of Ofcom’s Enforcement Policy can be found on the Ofcom website.

6. Other regulations regarding model control and UAV

The use of flying models is also subject to regulation by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Operators of model aircraft apparatus must therefore take account of CAA regulations, notably Articles 166 and 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009.  These relate to Small Unmanned Aircraft  and Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft, respectively.  See the CAA’s publication CAP 393

Further, the CAA publishes the document CAP 658; Model Aircraft: A Guide to Safe Flying. Note, the introduction to CAP 658 is explicit that it “refers only to model aircraft used for sport and recreation. Guidance on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for aerial work is contained in CAP 722- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operations in UK Airspace - Guidance.”

In addition, the organising bodies for the various sections of the model control hobby have established codes of practice and preferred band plans, designed to ensure the successful operation of models. Details are available from the UK Radio Control Council - see Section 11.

7. Placing equipment on the market or putting into service

Before it can be placed on the UK market, radio model control equipment must first comply with the provisions of the Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive 1999/5/EC (The R&TTE Directive).

To comply, all equipment has to meet a set of Essential Requirements that are based on voluntary Harmonised European Standards. Manufacturers can meet the essential requirements by ensuring equipment meets the applicable harmonised standards or by seeking the opinion of an R&TTE competent Notified Body. Once this assessment has been carried out, the manufacturer can declare compliance, affix the CE mark to the equipment and then place it on the market anywhere in the European Community.

Full details of the R&TTE Directive, plus CE and Alert symbols can be found on the EUR&TTE website.

Ofcom will take enforcement action where non-compliance becomes apparent. Devices with only FCC marking cannot be lawfully placed on the market / brought into use in the EU.  This includes much of the apparatus operating in the 902 to 928 MHz band.

8. Further information

Enquiries about information given in this information sheet should be addressed to Ofcom or emailed to SRD.info@ofcom.org.uk.

10. What is the UK Radio Control Council?

The UK Radio Control Council (UKRCC) consists of representatives of all aspects of the model control hobby. It meets Ofcom from time-to-time to discuss model control interests. Further information about the UKRCC may be obtained from: http://www.ukrcc.org