The FCC issues six license classes, each authorizing varying levels of privileges.
The class for which each licensee is qualified is determined by the degree of skill and knowledge in operating a station that the licensee demonstrates during an examination to volunteer examiners (VEs) in his or her community. Operator class license classes are:
Grandfathered Operator Classes:
Current Operator Classes
Most new amateur radio operators start at the Technician Class and then advance to the General Class or Amateur Extra Class. The VEs give examination credit for the license class currently held so that examinations required for that license class need not be repeated. The VEs prepare the written examinations from question pools that have been made public. Helpful study guides and training courses are widely available.
The privileges of a Technician Class operator license include operating an amateur station that may transmit on channels in any of 17 frequency bands above 50 MHz with up to 1,500 watts of power. To pass the Technician Class examination, at least 26 questions from a 35 question written examination must be answered correctly. Technician Class licensees also have privileges in four amateur service bands in the HF range (3-30 MHz) (Refer to Section 97.301(e)).
The General Class operator license authorizes privileges in all 27 amateur service bands. Upon accreditation by a Volunteer-Examiner Coordinator (VEC), an individual can help administer certain examinations. In addition to the above written examination, the requirement for a General Class operator license includes a 35 question written examination for which 26 correctly answered questions is the minimum passing score.
The privileges of an Amateur Extra Class operator license include additional spectrum in the HF bands. In addition to the two above written examinations, the requirement for an Amateur Extra Class operator license includes answering correctly at least 37 questions on a 50 question written examination.
Grandfathered Operator Classes
No new Novice, Technician Plus, or Advanced Class amateur service operator licenses will be issued. These licenses, however, may be modified or renewed. Technician Plus class operator licenses will be converted to Technician Class licenses if renewed. Technician Plus class operator licenses will also be converted to Technician Class when modified to show a vanity call sign.
The Novice Class operator license is for persons who have passed the 5 wpm telegraphy examination, but only the first part of the written examination formerly required for the Technician Class. Privileges include four bands in the HF range, one band in the VHF range (30-300 MHz), and one band in the UHF range (300-3,000 MHz).
The Technician Plus Class operator license was issued to Technician Class licensees, who, in addition to passing a written examination, also had passed at least a 5wpm telegraphy examination. A Technician Plus Class licensee is authorized the privileges of a Technician Class licensees plus the privileges of a Novice Class licensee.
The privileges of an Advanced Class operator license include 275 kHz of additional spectrum in the HF bands.