Ham radio fun for holiday air travel

Energy & Sustainability Home Technology
Ham radio fun for holiday air travel

It’s the holiday season, and if you’re stuck in an airport, this is a great opportunity to have some ham radio fun! You can listen to air traffic of flights as they take off and land. I find this amusing because it’s like listening to a live airport reality TV show that you’re a part of. You learn a lot about how the coordination of flights. Plus, there’s the occasional drama when a pilot makes a wrong turn and causes other planes to have to be rerouted.

As you listen, you can actually hear the different air traffic communications of flights as they proceed through preparations to take off and land (clearance, ground, tower, and so on). Each step has a different frequency, after a flight finishes checking in at one level, the pilots tune the radio to the next frequency. After reading this tutorial, you’ll be able to listen in and tune your radio to follow a flight as it passes through the different stages of landing or depart. Below is a description of the different levels, along with sample audio clips. A lot of communication is in special codes. You’ll hear a lot of “alpha alpha one” or “delta five seventy-three.” I’ll explain what these mean as well. All you need is a scanner or handheld ham radio to listen. You can use these in the airport, and even on the plane, when use of electronics are approved.

Understanding Air Traffic Codes

Airline Name + Number: When you hear “Delta five seventy-three,” or “Comair fifteen sixty-one,” these are the names of different flights.
Letters: When you hear “alpha bravo kilo charlie echo lima,” these are letters “A B K C E L.” Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand letters on the radio, so this spelling alphabet is used.

Frequencies and Procedure
You can find the frequencies for different airports and air traffic on this website. Following are the communication procedures for a departing and an arriving flight. After the pilot communicates with each, he tunes the radio to the frequency of the next.

Gives general directions for take off, including which runway to use, direction, and altitude, and transponder frequency (“squawk”). The transponder frequency helps radars to identify planes.

Here is what you will hear in the first communication on the audio clip:
1. CLEARANCE: asks FLIGHT LAN Chile 533 if they are ready to receive the flight route.
2. FLIGHT LAN CHILE 533: says they are ready.
3. CLEARANCE: tells FLIGHT LAN Chile 533 their flight route then tells them the transponder frequency is 1642 by saying “squawk 1642”.
4. FLIGHT LAN CHILE 533: confirms the flight route by repeating it back to CLEARANCE

Tells flights where to taxi and which runway to use. While a plane is on the ground, you have probably looked out the window and seen signs with letters (such as “KK”). When ground tells planes where to taxi, they use these letters to explain the route like street names. Numbers are used name runway.

Here is what you will hear in the first communication on the audio clip:
GROUND: tells FLIGHT COMAIR 1496 to use runway 31. Taxi left at KK and left at B.
FLIGHT COMAIR 1496: confirms by repeating the directions

Controls the actual runway and gives clearance for take off. Once in the air, tower will say “radar contact” which means planes can be seen on the radar and should switch their frequency to Departure.

Gives planes initial directions in the air.

Makes sure planes are lined up to land.

Gives final clearance to land.

Tells planes how to navigate to the gate by assigning a gate and a taxi route.

In theory, licensed hams are also allowed to operate while on board a plane with the pilot’s permission. In this case, you would append “/AM” to your call sign, short for “aeronautical mobile.” In practice, this is only feasible on private planes. On commercial flights, if your airline permits it, you can use your radio or scanner in receive mode to listen to local repeaters as you fly over different cities. Pick up a copy of the ARRL Repeater Directory to find repeaters on your route. And once you’re back on the ground, you can use it to program your radio with a few local repeater frequencies so you can chat with the locals.

For more information visit below:

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Fashion + Technology Diana was a contestant on Project Runway season 2, graduated from RISD, and currently lives in New York City.

View more articles by dianaeng


Ready to dive into the realm of hands-on innovation? This collection serves as your passport to an exhilarating journey of cutting-edge tinkering and technological marvels, encompassing 15 indispensable books tailored for budding creators.