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The Best Aviation Scanners for 2021

In the world of aviation scanning, aircraft scanner apps may be starting to take over and replace real scanners, but, to a true enthusiast, the physical connection that a real scanner brings to the hobbyist is irreplaceable. Besides, the use of an aircraft radio scanner app from a cellular phone or PC has far too many distractions which can put scanning on the sidelines.

best aviation scanner

Whereas with real scanners’, the features are solely dedicated to scanning, making you focus on your hobby or task. With this, the best aviation scanner remains to be the ideal tool to sport for aviation scanning.

Ahead, we discuss the hottest-selling aviation scanners, their specs, and other things you need for a satisfying experience.

Best Aviation Scanner Reviews

1. Yaesu FTA-250L VHF Airband Transceiver

A top-notch amateur radio-producing company manufactures this Japan-made aviation radio scanner. In truth, the Yaesu FTA-250L scanner is constructed for tough use with its robust physical strength that will surely last long.

Among the many affordable aviation scanners from Yaesu, this model is one of the toughest ATC radio scanners you can get. Its shell is made from sturdy polycarbonate plastic. Thus, you don’t have to worry when accidentally dropping your device as this material also resists impact and absorbs shock. Anything within its durable casing is well protected.

Feel confident using the device under harsh environmental conditions, be it under the rain or low-pressure water splashes, because it is rated as an IPX5 water-resistant scanner. Keep on tuning in to your favorite aviation frequencies under all weather conditions!

I know you can’t expect busy airports to be quiet and calm, but this scanner’s booming 700mW audio output will surely alert you for incoming calls, ensuring you won’t miss one. Plus, you’re guaranteed enough memory space for monitoring all aviation channels with its 250-channel memory bank.

I especially like how easy to operate the model is. The menu is a pleasure to use mainly because it comes with a complete, user-friendly manual. Operation is a breeze owing to its intuitive system, which coordinates multiple functions based on user inputs.

If you are experiencing trouble reading displays under sunlight, FTA-250L spares you from this difficulty with its high-resolution Dot Matrix monitor that is well lit and sunlight viewable.

All in all, it is a high-value package equipped with a 1950mAH, Li-on battery for extended use, a charging cradle for more effortless charging, and a three-year warranty for any of your complaints.

But this model has its downsides, too. I can only wish it comes with a squelch adjustment knob. The volume buttons are also sensitive, making it prone to misoperation, such as when taking it off the belt clip.
Pros
  • Robust polycarbonate shell that resists impact and absorbs shock
  • An IPX5 water-resistant scanner, usable under all weather conditions
  • Loud, booming 700mW audio output for better audibility in noisy places
  • An intuitive system with features for ease in operation
  • High-resolution Dot Matrix monitor for a clear display
  • Comes in a complete set: battery, charging cradle, plus a 3-year warranty
Cons
  • Does not have a squelch adjustment knob
  • Buttons are ultra sensitive
Overall, Yaesu’s reliability in creating durable and functional products has once again manifested in this aircraft radio scanner.

2. Icom IC-A25N VHF Airband Transceiver

For a high-functioning navigational airband transceiver, Icom IC-A25N should be your transceiver of choice. The A25N’s navigational functions are superb, making it a reliable supplementary navigational device and an air traffic control scanner.

It sports a built-in GPS and Bluetooth. These features allow you to scheme flight plans using android or IOS devices, and then transport them into the A25N using the Bluetooth feature. It also has VOR indicators, which ensures precise direction. It sends an alert when there is a deviation to the flight course.

If we look closely into its VOR functions, we’ll see four in-depth features. In detail, the CDI alerts flight course deviation, while OBS allows you to shift courses from the original flight plan.

Meanwhile, its TO-FROM indicator displays the relationship between the aircraft position versus the path designated by the OBS. ABSS, on the other hand, enables the setting of the recent flight course as the new course. These features are convenient for navigational purposes.

I also like my gadgets to be waterproof so I can go without worrying when it rains. This aviation band scanner gives you that security. And, it’s not only resistant to rain, but it is also submersible for up to 1-meter water depth for unstoppable adventures.

The transceiver LCD screen is also large enough for better readability. Plus, you can toggle between two modes, the day and night mode, for better viewing at any time of the day. The graphics are large and user-friendly.

You can also choose between different scanning methods such as VFO scan, memory channel scan, or priority scan to veer away from laggard all-frequency scanning.

However, all these superb features come with a price. The A25N is pricier than your basic transceivers.
Pros
  • With GPS and Bluetooth features for navigational use
  • High-functioning VOR features to keep you on the right track
  • Waterproof and submersible for up to 1 meter deep
  • The LCD screen is user-friendly with large graphics and viewing modes
  • Allows specific frequency scan which is faster and more efficient
Cons
  • Costs you more than the basic transceivers
Truly, Icom A25N has all you need for a reliable airband transceiver and navigational device.

3. TTI TSC100RA Air Band Scanner

If you’re not a fan of complex radios that do little in terms of actual frequency monitoring, take a sneak peek at the TTI TSC100RA. It might be just what you need for a basic airband radio.

Simple functions and high sensitivity are this brand’s defining qualities. You do not have to stress yourself learning complex radio features when all you want is to listen to aircraft frequencies. This radio model is the very definition of user-friendly; it is easy to set up and operate. Even amateur aviation enthusiasts can quickly navigate through its features.

Aside from being a great aviation radio receiver, it has NOAA Weather channels for weather monitoring, making it an attractive device for storm spotters. It is a narrow band scanner and mainly focuses on monitoring airband and VHF band. So, you do not have to trouble yourself dealing with more frequencies outside of your interest.

I also like this scanner’s large LCD screen as it facilitates ease of reading. It is also well lit, so reading in the dark should not be a problem. Even the buttons are backlit. It weighs a mere 5.7 oz, so it’s quite handy and fits perfectly in your hand.

You can immediately use it right out of its package as it comes in a complete set of accessories – 3 AA batteries, an antenna, a belt clip, and a BNC adaptor for more flexible use. It also comes with a complete operation manual to guide you through the setup.

However, its audio on the speaker does not seem loud and high enough for crowded and noisy places. Yet for me, it suffices my needs with its full package.
Pros
  • User-friendly, easy to set up and operate with a complete manual
  • With NOAA weather channels for quick weather updates
  • Large and well-lit LCD screen and buttons make reading easy
  • Lightweight handheld scanner weighing 5.7 oz
  • A ready-to-use set: batteries, antenna, belt clip, & BNC adaptor
Cons
  • Not so loud and high audio for noisy places
For easy to learn amateur radio, this radio receiver is the right one for you. It boasts of straightforward operation while offering excellent functions in a complete set.

4. Yaesu FTA-450L Airband VHF Comm

If you are a fan of the high-end Yaesu models but wish they come at a more competitive price, consider the FTA-450L your dream come true. This unit has almost similar functions as the highly successful models for just half its price.

If you are a new aviator, you will find this model’s easy-to-operate Menu System to be quite friendly. The icon displays on the menu makes way for a highly intuitive user interface, thereby facilitating ease of use.

I also like its large Dot Matrix display with adjustable brightness options, making reading under various lighting conditions easy. Best of all, the display is in high resolution, so viewing the features comes with great ease.

Moreover, if you are concerned about memory channels, you will find its 200-channel storage capacity enough for all your aviation frequencies. Plus, it also allows Alphanumeric character frequency naming, making memory recall a lot easier. You can also cluster frequencies, as you like, to avoid getting lost when monitoring channels in various airports.

Programming is easy, as well, using its free PC programming software and USB cable. It has all you need to use the scanner straight from the box. What else can you expect from the package? It comes with a 2000mAh battery, a charger, belt clip, and cigarette lighter DC cord, and more.

However, scanning can be a bit cumbersome. I wish it sported customizable scanning features. Although users who seldom perform scanning say, it’s not a huge turn off for them.
Pros
  • Highly functional and yet affordable
  • Features an easy to operate and intuitive menu system
  • Large Dot Matrix screen with adjustable lighting
  • Huge memory storage capacity: up to 200 channels
  • Alphanumeric naming makes stored frequency more readable
  • Quick programming with free PC programming software and USB cable
  • Full package includes: battery, charger, belt clip, cigarette lighter DC cord, …
Cons
  • Scanning capability is a bit cumbersome
All in all, the FT450L truly makes a top contender among the competitively priced, highly functional scanners in the market.

5. Icom IC-A25C Sport VHF Airband Transceiver

Unstoppable adventure is what Icom IC-A25C promises with its durable construction and high waterproof rating meant for near extreme escapades.

If you like Icom A25N but don’t think you need its navigational features, then A25C should be your pick. It’s a communications only scanner, so it does not have unnecessary navigational features, but it’s up for your most extraordinary adventures.

This scanner is rated IP57, meaning it is dust resistant and waterproof for up to 1 meter deep. So, whether you’re in the middle of a sandstorm or typhoon, your transceiver can surely hold up.

One of my favorite features is its Auto Noise Limiter (ANL), making way for clear, noise-free listening. And this comes alongside its powerful, 6-watt, RF output for an expanded jitter-free communication.

The powerful 2350mAh batteries can last for 10.5 hours for extended use. That’s quite a powerhouse cell! Plus, another practical feature of A25C is its battery status screen, allowing you to check battery usage. Hence, you can recharge promptly and avoid missing adventures due to exhausted batteries.

When it comes to memory storage, it can store up to 300 channels in 15 groups. You can key in these frequencies in alphanumeric names for easy recall. Moreover, this scanner has a “Flip-Flop” Channel Recall, where you can easily search the last ten frequencies used through the directional keys and channel knobs. It makes switching between channels a lot easier.

But, the user manual needs to be more straightforward and provide a more useful step-to-step guide. Thankfully, many user guides are available on the internet to make up for the manual’s limitations.
Pros
  • Solid built, dust and waterproof
  • With Auto Noise Limiter for clearer communications
  • 6-watt, high-power RF for expanded coverage
  • 2350mAh batteries with long runtime & battery status screen for low battery alert
  • Can store up to 300 channels
  • Features ‘flip flop’ channel recall for an easy use of last 10 frequencies
Cons
  • The operational guide needs to be more detailed
Its stable built and practical features make this model a well-loved product in the market.

6. Uniden Bearcat SR30C Scanner

Uniden Bearcat SR30C is for people looking for an excellent entry-level and compact handheld scanner that comes with extra features.

Whether it is for airport hopping or aircraft spotting, SR30C can cover all your frequency storage needs with its 500 programmable channel capacity. Compared to its competitors, which can only hold half this amount, Uniden allows for more frequency inputs.

With this device, you can listen to more than 32,000 frequencies as it enables comprehensive band monitoring, including NOAA, marine, civil aviation, racing, police, and other bands.

Scanning is made easier with its priority scan function for quick scanning of priority frequencies. You can finally say goodbye to long and comprehensible frequency scanning that only consumes much battery. Moreover, it has a memory backup, which stores the frequencies for a period if you lose power while monitoring.

And although it is an analog scanner, its features are quite advanced for its level. It uses Close Call RF to avoid missing nearby frequencies. Besides, it is PC programmable, so you don’t have to stress yourself with manual, laggard programming. Why stick to old, inconvenient ways of frequency scanning when you can get the convenience of high-end gadgets at an affordable price?

What’s more, is that this unit has three power options. You can charge it on your PC or other USB power sources using its free USB cable, or you can power it up with two AA alkaline batteries or Ni-MH batteries. With these options, low batteries will no longer keep you from enjoying aviation scanning wherever you go.

However, this is not a digital radio, which prevents you from listening to channels that have converted to digital frequencies. Take time to know the type of radio system used in your area to ensure you have the right device.
Pros
  • Its expanded storage can manage up to 500 channels
  • With over 32,000 frequencies to listen to
  • Priority scanning-capable
  • With memory backup and Close Call RF features
  • PC programmable for quick channel encoding
  • Three power options: USB cable, AA alkaline batteries or Ni-MH batteries
Cons
  • Bars listening to digital frequencies
Uniden just loves to beat conventions and go beyond limits to ensure client satisfaction. This Uniden aviation scanner with extra storage and extra-wide frequency range proves their commitment.

7. EXMAX EXD-737 Aviation Handheld Radio

EXMAX EXD-737 is probably the lowest-priced aviation scanner that allows full-band radio scanning. With a small investment, you can enjoy listening to a wide range of frequencies using this handy device!

This handheld aircraft scanner can tune in to FM/AM bands, short waves and air bands, city bands and civil, coast, racing, weather, and even campus bands! With such a wide range of frequency reception, everything you need to keep you informed is right at your fingertips. Be ready for more adventures using the best radio scanner from EXMAX.

Moreover, this device can store up to 300 frequencies to ensure you have enough space for all your favorite frequencies. It may be a compact device, but its functionality is never inferior. And to make the device more user-friendly, three different tuning methods are available. You can do manual and automatic searches or a full-scale automatic search. Manual tuning of your top frequencies is also possible.

And if you’re particular about the audio quality, know that this unit has a 40mm, large speaker that emits loud and clear acoustics for accurate listening. Whether I use the scanner for aviation purposes or to tune in to FM radio stations, I always get the relaxing feeling from a genuinely clear acoustic experience.

Add to that; it has a seven sections retractable antenna for better reception and sensitivity. This unit is definitely a joy to have.

Its overall design is one of my favorites. The size is comparable to an MP4, which makes it handy. You can slip it in your pocket, inside your bag, or sport it with a wrist strap. And while it is small, you can still see its display clearly through its powerfully lit LCD screen. The screen uses easy-to-read segments, so even when you’re across the room, you can easily see its LCD.

But the settings may take some time to learn, so you could use more patience here. The multiple functions of each control can be confusing during initial attempts at setting up this airport radio scanner.
Pros
  • Wide frequency range monitoring
  • Can store up to 300 channels
  • Choose between manual, automatic, and full-scale scanning
  • Loud speakers and clear audio
  • Features a 7-section retractable antenna for better reception and sensitivity
  • Pocket-size as an MP4, compact, and light
  • Easy to read LCD segments with a bright screen
Cons
  • Settings may take time to master
EXMAX is truly your one-of-a-kind airplane radio scanner. It proves that in your search for the best airband scanner, there is no need to empty your pockets to buy the more expensive ones!

8. Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner

How about listening to more than 40,000 frequencies from a compact, durable radio scanner? Uniden Bearcat BC 125 has all it takes to be considered the best air scan radio. Find out why.

Stay updated with the latest information from the aviation world and emergency departments with this high-power handheld scanner. You can get up-to-date news from the Police, Ambulance, Fire, Weather, Marine, Railroad, Civil Air, and other Amateur radio services, anytime, anywhere.

One of its more impressive features is the superb, noise-cancellation application. The scanner can effectively filter out the static from the electronics devices nearby, for better communications. Alongside the topnotch audio quality, it’s compact and comfortable to hold. It fits the hands perfectly for ease of handling.

With this scanner, you can also label channels using alphanumeric symbols. This results in easy identification of the dispatch frequency. You do not have to keep guessing nor memorize frequencies. It also has a Close Call RF to identify nearby frequencies when traveling to unfamiliar places.

Programming the device is done in simple, straightforward steps. I used the free Windows software from Uniden’s website to gather the channels and save the information on my PC. Afterwhich, I uploaded them on my scanner, ready to be used anytime. The storage method is convenient and effortless. I created different banks for different channels and labelled them accordingly for selective quick scanning.

With a more organized storage system, I can easily pick channels to scan, meaning there is no need to scan the entire storage system for air frequencies. It also has a multi-function knob that you can use to adjust volume and squelch and scroll channels in the banks.

But what I consider to be a flaw is that the device does not allow charging while on. So, if you’re charging your batteries, it’s best to get spares so you don’t miss any events from the monitored frequencies.
Pros
  • More frequencies covered, high-power radio
  • Uses noise-cancellation technology for clearer communication line
  • Alphanumeric naming allows easy ID of signal source
  • With Close Call RF feature to identify frequencies in new areas
  • Straightforward programming of channels
  • Scan select for more efficient scanning
Cons
  • Does not charge while unit is on
Overall, the Bearcat BC125AT is one of the most highly-rated aircraft scanners in the market and now we know why.

What to Look For When Buying an Aviation Scanner

aircraft-radio-scanner

Various aircraft radio scanner brands are out in the market, and one can easily get perplexed as to which has the best value for the money. But, more than the brand, you should be looking out for the scanner’s specs to ensure it has what you need as a professional or an enthusiast.

If you’re new to the world of aviation scanning and still have more to learn, here’s a quick guide to help you choose a scanner and kick off your hobby or better your craft.

Scanner format: There are two scanner formats, the analog and the digital. Most airbands are at analog levels, which makes analog radio still very much on the mainstream, if we are only concerned about aviation communication. A Digital scanner is another option. This format can listen to both digital and analog transmissions, which is a plus. But, it comes with a price.

Handiness: Aviation scanners take different forms, with handheld, mobile, and fixed options. A handheld scanner is one that you can carry around with you – a handy device if you aren’t living near the airports or if you’re planning to go airport hopping to listen to aviation communications. Meanwhile, a mobile scanner is installed onto your car. It’s somewhat mobile, but you can’t take it out of the car because it is where it gets the power supply. The last one is the fixed scanner, which is mostly used at home or in an office. It needs an AC power source.

The handheld type works best for plane spotters. It features a battery, so there’ll be no need for an external or lined power source. You can take it with you as you head to observation decks or anywhere near the approach path.

One-Way vs. Two-Way: In as far as transmittal and reception are concerned, there are two types of scanner – one that can facilitate transmission and broadcast (two-way), and one which can only act as a receiver (one-way). While the latter’s use is limited to listening, unless your job includes talking to the pilot or air traffic controllers, a one-way radio will be all you need for aviation scanning.

Moreover, opting for a two-way radio will require you to acquire a license, as it may be illegal to transmit without it.

Power source: There are various means of supplying power to the radio. Aside from mobile and home-based types, which require an external power source, handheld versions use standard AA batteries or model-specific batteries.

Handheld scanners sporting unique batteries may provide longer operating hours, but their spares can be challenging to acquire and expensive. On the other hand, AA batteries can quickly drain, but they are easier to come by and cheaper.

Should you choose a model using AA batteries, get high-capacity rechargeable standby batteries, so drained power cells do not interrupt the broadcast.

Programmability: Some scanners are programmable via the computer, while older versions use manual programming. Depending on your skills, you will find either type helpful or cumbersome.

If you are not adept with computer programming, keypad encoding makes a great alternative. Manual inputting using the keypad maybe laggard, but you do not have to deal with computer apps to enter channels.

Meanwhile, digital programming comes with great ease to those who are handy with computers. Just a few clicks and encoding and you get to program a wide range of aircraft scanner frequencies.

Budget: The range of cost for scanners depends mostly on its type and the features they offer. Analog scanners are more affordable, with decent models being offered at about $100. Meanwhile, digital scanners are more costly, coming in at nearly $400, more or less.

For entry-level enthusiasts, there’s no need to splurge on expensive scanners as you might not even make use of its more advanced features just yet.

Completeness: Some may take this factor for granted. If you want a scanner that works immediately after use, then it is prudent to ensure you get a complete set. Some radios need an external antenna to work or batteries that do not come with the kit. This can be frustrating if you want a functional radio at the onset.

Further, some units will require enhancements for you to access its full feature. Be ready to inquire about necessary accessories.

What is the Best Frequency to Listen to Aircraft

best-airband-scanner

The aviation activities you would like to listen to will determine the airport frequencies for scanners you should tune in to. There are different activities and areas, and each has their corresponding frequencies. But generally, Civilian Aircraft band is assigned at 108 to 137 MHz – a frequency range covered by entry-level to advanced scanners. The following are specific frequencies for various aircraft activities.

At minor airports without control towers, most activities happen in the following UNICOM frequencies.

  • 122.900
  • 122.950
  • 122.700
  • 122.725
  • 122.800
  • 122.975
  • 123.000
  • 123.050
  • 123.075 MHz

At major airports with control towers, the following channels are used with their corresponding activities:

Air Traffic Control: The following frequencies are assigned to Air Traffic Control in general.

  • 118-122 MHz
  • 123.6-128.8 MHz
  • 132-135.975 MHz

The following are specific channels and activities within the ATC band.

  • Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS)- This channel plays a taped message that airs continuously to orient pilots about essential flight data. Information that can be gathered from ATIS includes weather info, active runways, and other notice to airmen (NOTAMs). This channel is primarily beneficial to pilots. They usually gather reports from current ATIS transmission before reaching out to the local control unit, reducing the controllers’ load and relieving frequency congestion.
  • Clearance Delivery – This frequency is dedicated to notifying a controller of his flight plans, accept flight instructions, including a go signal for takeoff.
  • Ground Control – It is where the pilot gathers info about the taxiways to use to land on the right runway.
  • Tower – It is where the clearance to enter the runway comes from as well as departure instructions.
  • Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) – This facility controls congested airspace in high-activity airports such as those in major cities. The activities you can expect to listen to from TRACON frequencies are aircraft arrivals and departure and traversing the flight exclusion zone. Typically, you will find numerous frequencies assigned for approach and departure.
  • Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) –ARTCC takes charge once the airplane leaves TRACON airspace. In airports that are not heavily congested, aircraft are handed directly to ARTCC from the control tower.

Navigational Aids: These are usually non-voice communications and may not really be fascinating to listen to.

  • 108-118 MHz

Special Use: Communications happening in his sub-band includes Unicom, Multicom, Flight Service Stations, airshow communications, balloons, gliders, and other miscellaneous communications. Search this sub-band first at an uncontrolled airport.

  • 122-123.575 MHz

Airline Operational Communications: It’s where you hear internal company traffic, including mundane activities that may be of little interest to you.

  • 128.8-132 MHz

New Band: In the 1990s, this sub-band was added, which contains a combination of Air Traffic Control, Airline Operations, and some UNICOM operations.

  • 136-136.975 MHz

Is aviation radio AM or FM?

Aviation radio or aviation communication is the means of communicating to and from an aircraft using wireless radio. AM radio is widely used for aviation communications because of its immunity to capture effect. This phenomenon, which occurs in FM, is explained as the clamping down of the weaker signal at the receiver’s end so that if there are two competing signals in an area, the weaker signal will be demodulated.

Capture effect can be very risky for the aviation world as ‘locking on’ prevents emergency signal reception. For this reason, aviation has used AM.

Conclusion

Aviation scanner never gets outdated owing to its usefulness not just in the field of aviation but also to hobbyists and enthusiasts. But with so many brands of air traffic control radio scanner out there, the search for the best aviation scanner can quickly get frustrating. Thankfully, guides such as this exists to educate newbies on reliable products in the market based on customer satisfaction and personal user experiences.