Listening In: Air Traffic Control Transmissions

Do you live close to a busy commercial airport? When people think of living near the airport, the first thing that comes to mind is the constant noise of jets taking off and landing. But that noise may be music to your ears if you are an aviation buff. There is a plethora of air traffic control transmissions that you can listen to with your scanner. Most scanners on the market are capable to receiving airband communications, so monitoring these frequencies can be an exciting subset of the scanner listening hobby.

airport-control-tower-interior

We always can’t tower an aircraft control tower, so listening in on the scanner is the second best thing available.

Even if you don’t live near to an airport, you still aren’t out of luck. Air traffic communications can travel tens to hundreds of miles. So while you may not be able to copy the ground communications, you will be able to hear the transmissions from the aircraft as they pass overhead. It is not uncommon to hear air traffic from 150 miles or more originating from an airplane high overhead. But what about ground based operations, the airband conversation isn’t complete unless you can hear both the ground and the air.

Airband J-Pole antenna Assembled

KB9VBR Airband J-Pole (Click image to enlarge)

“ unless you live within 15-20 of the airport, the best antennas in the world won’t bring in those distant ground signals.”

Since most Fixed Base Operations (FBO) and Commercial air traffic control (ATC) antenna systems and communications are optimized to be received by aircraft, you may have a difficult time receiving them with the stock antenna on your scanner. A good quality external antenna, mounted outside will greatly improve your reception of ground to air communications. Designed and tuned for the civilian aviation band, the Airband J-Pole Antenna serves this purpose quite well. But even with a good antenna, unless you live within 15-20 of the airport, the best antennas in the world won’t bring in those distant ground signals.

Fortunately, thanks to the Internet,  you can enjoy the traffic from hundreds of airports streamed directly into your computer or smart phone. LiveATC.net provides live and archived audio feeds from hundreds of airports around the world. Made up of a network of volunteers living close to major airports, they receive the signals and stream them online 24 hours a day.

You also can get into the action if you live are an aviation fan and live near an airport not served by a LiveATC feed. They are always looking for volunteers willing to put up a streaming station. All you need is a always on Internet connection (like cable or DSL), a scanner available to receive airband communications, and a computer with an extra sound card. Unless you live literally next door to the airport, an external antenna like the Airband J-Pole Antenna will also be necessary. The helpful people of LiveATC will supply the software and expertise to help get everything on the air.

Do you enjoy listening aviation traffic? Tell us about your airband receiving setup in the comments below.