I want to listen to the audio between the ATC and the pilots while I'm inflight. I know this is possible because I have been with people who have done it. It's a small, handheld device that just tunes in to AM from 118.00 to 134.00.

How do I find what kind of entry-level handheld receiver would be suitable for this purpose? Are there any features that would be useful to have or not have? For example, I can imagine using a transceiver might be problematic. Are there any restrictions that would prevent me from using this legally in flight or on the ground?

Are these only available from specialist vendors or might I be likely to purchase them in general online stores or chain stores in Canada?

  • I believe your question would be more suited for the hardware recomendation stackexchange. – JS Lavertu Jul 7 '16 at 3:50
  • @AerisFang I don't know. After reading the question I want one for travelling now too... – Berwyn Jul 7 '16 at 3:52
  • 1
    Have you tried "buy atc scanner" on google? – Karlson Jul 7 '16 at 3:59
  • 118 to 134 MHz is right, but an FM receiver won't to -- ATC communication in this band always uses AM, not FM. – hmakholm left over Monica Jul 7 '16 at 9:50
  • 1
    Edited to remove shopping aspect. Nominated for reopen – Berwyn Jul 7 '16 at 21:49

Officially, use of an active radio receiver is often not allowed on aircraft. For example, United prohibits "radio receivers and transmitters" and Hawaiian prohibits "Battery or cord operated radios (AM/FM/VHF)." I am not an expert, but have been told that there's at least some concern that a receiver could interfere with radio reception for the pilots, as even a receiver can generate small amounts of RF. This is discussed in this comment over on aviation.stackexchange.

These prohibitions came from the era when all radio transmitters and receivers were banned in flight and many were not lifted after the rules changed to allow wifi, as it would require extensive testing that has likely not been performed.

The legal issue in the US is discussed by Radio Reference: airlines have to create their own policies for what electronic devices are allowed, and AM/FM/VHF radio receivers are often banned. I haven't been able to find a specific policy for Air Canada or Westjet though.

If the flight has wifi, you can attempt to listen in over the internet by using the streaming feeds on liveatc.net, though it may take some effort to find the right frequency, and in-flight wifi may not be available during takeoff and landing.

Another option might be a passive aviation receiver, which is essentially a crystal radio tuned to the aviation band. You don't get to tune it, so you might get multiple frequencies at once. People claim that they don't interfere and are allowed because they are purely passive receivers, but I'm not qualified to assess that claim. Here's a discussion of these devices from some people who have used them.

If you happen to be flying United Airlines, many of their flights are equipped with Channel 9 where you can listen to ATC communications over the in-flight entertainment system. This feature is only available on some aircraft models (fewer models than before in fact, though they're looking at providing it over wifi) and is subject to the pilot's discretion.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you for that. I have used liveatc before, but they don't have any scanners for my home airport. I have flown with United once, and I do remember hearing the ATC-pilot chatter (I think they also used to do the whole channel, so I heard other aircraft as well). I'll look into the crystal radios you mentioned. Once again, thanks for the answer. – tycrek Jul 7 '16 at 14:24
  • 1
    Just be careful, it might be illegal to listen to this chatter; which may be why its not available on LiveATC. For example, it is illegal in the UK to listen to anything not transmitted for general consumption; unless you have a license. – Burhan Khalid Jul 8 '16 at 0:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.