It might come as a surprise that air band radio is still widely applied in many industries, especially aerospace. One of the biggest reasons is that it’s time-tested and a reliable method of communication, especially in the air. 

Both pilots and Air traffic control use it for two-way communication and navigation. If you’re in the aviation industry or just in general interested in this type of radio, this article is just for you.

Continue reading to get a quick guide to the basics, features, licensing policies, and approvals required for use. 

What Are Air Band Radios?

Air band radio refers to a specific frequency range that falls under the very high frequencies (VHF) radio band. Besides, due to its widespread use in the aviation industry, it’s also known as aircraft or aviation band radio. It is basically a two-way radio system that allows pilots and air traffic controllers to communicate. 

In general, airband radios work on VHF between 108 and 137 MHz, which is different from the one used on the ground. Additionally, the air band assists in coordinating flights, keeping them safe and efficient. Besides, it provides weather updates, and issues safety alerts.

Understanding Air Band Radios

As we discussed previously, the air band radio’s range is between 108 and 137 MHz. However, there are again several sub-bands, each of which serves a different communication purpose. For example, emergency communication uses the 121.5 MHz frequency, while air traffic control uses the 122.9 MHz frequency.

Now, there are a few ways in which the airband differs from other radio bands. Firstly, the airband range is narrow, making limited space for channels. However, it allows avoiding interfering with others.

Secondly, the air band signals can only travel in a straight line. Finally, the air band can only be regulated under specific rules and regulations.

Licensing of Air Band Radios

It is illegal in most countries to operate an air band radio without a license. It is because you may interfere with aviation communication. In addition, you will not get permission to transmit or listen on air band frequencies. 

Now, those who are involved in the aviation industry also need a license to use an air band radio. They can be anyone from the pilots to the air traffic controller staff. One of the most common ones is the flight radiotelephony operator’s license. 

Nevertheless, there are exceptions as well. For example, glider pilots who operate on nominated glider frequencies and student pilots under instructor supervision do not require the license.

Types of Air Band Radios

Throughout this section, we will explore the most common types of airband radios. 


Handheld airband radios are portable, as you might expect. Since they are small in design, you can easily carry them around. Besides, they typically have a shorter range and consume 6 watts of power.


Panel-mounted radios are typically found on aircraft, generally installed in the cockpit. Moreover, they are comparatively powerful, and mostly use around 8 watts. 

Ground Station 

As you can probably guess, the ground station radio is typically located in the airport or at any base location.

Analog Air Bands and Digital Air Bands

It may sound old, but analog is still widely used. Air bands of this type transmit and receive audio signals using analog signals. In contrast, digital air bands use digital signals. 

Now, compared to analog, the digital airband offers improved reliability with better sound, reduced noise, and increased range. However, the initial cost may be high and are often more complex to operate. 

Features and Capabilities of Modern Air Band Radios

Modern air band radios have a variety of features and capabilities. It eases the work of pilots and other aviation experts.

Starting with voice communication, by which pilots communicate with each other and with air traffic control. It allows essential safety and efficiency in flight. Next, airband radios can receive navigation signals from ground stations, such as VORs and NDBs. In this way, the pilots can stay on course and avoid obstacles. 

In addition, ground stations, such as METAR and TAF reports, can transmit weather information through air band radios. This helps pilots avoid adverse weather conditions. 

Furthermore, airband radios can also transmit and receive data, such as flight plans and weather forecasts. This allows pilots to stay up-to-date on the latest information and make informed flight decisions.

Key Components and Functions

Modern air band radios have a number of key components and functions, including, 

Display and User interface

Typically, the display is large and easy to read. Besides, the user interface is designed to be intuitive and user-friendly.

You will notice many radios with features such as voice activation and Bluetooth connectivity.

Frequency Tuning and Channel Selection  

The modern air band radio uses a variety of methods for tuning to and selecting channels. First, the preset channels are pre-programmed into the radio by the manufacturer. Second, a VFO that lets you tune to any frequency within the radio’s range manually. Finally, the scanning process helps you scan through all the available channels in the radio’s range.

Volume and Squelch Controls

Air band radios have a volume control that is used to adjust the volume of audio output. Moreover, the squelch control in the air band removes background noise when there is no incoming signal. 

To be more precise, 

  • When the squelch control is turned down, the radio will pick up even very weak signals. However, there will be a lot of background noise. 
  • When the squelch control is turned up, the radio will pick up mostly strong signals. However, now there will be less background noises. 

A Microphone and Speaker

The microphone transmits voice to the aircraft or air traffic while the speaker hears the voices. 

A Receiver and Transmitter

Receivers receive signals from other aircraft or air traffic control, while transmitters send out voice signals. Additionally, an antenna helps receive radio signals.

Operating Air Band Radios

As there are many types and brands available on the market, it is important to choose the one that is right for you. As a general rule, consider features that you think are appropriate for your needs. In this case, look for range, power, and number of channels. 

The following is a simple step-by-step guide on how to use the airband,

Step 1: Get familiar with the controls of the airband. They include the power button, volume control, channel selector, and the microphone. 

Step 2: Check the frequency you want to use.

Step 3: Turn on the radio by pressing the power button.

Step 4: Select the desired frequency. 

Step 5: Speak clearly and slowly into the microphone.

Step 6: Wait for a response. Now, listen to the audio output from the speaker.

Tips for Effective Use

For smooth operation and effective use of the air band, it is crucial to keep in mind a few factors. 

  • It is important to use the correct frequency in the air band to ensure effective communication. 
  • You need to be aware of your surroundings to avoid interference. 
  • You need to monitor the frequency for emergencies. 
  • When communicating, make sure your language is clear and concise.
  • Keep your radio charged and in good working condition.
  • Use a headset to reduce background noise.
  • Follow the instructions in your aircraft’s operating manual.

Applications of Air Band Radios

There are a wide range of applications for air band radios, including:

  • In commercial and general aviation the pilot uses air bands to communicate with each other and the air traffic controller. 
  • The air traffic control reaches the aircraft and pilots in the designated area.
  • The military, marines, search and rescue team also use air bands for communication.
  • The law enforcement team uses airbands to communicate with each other and with aircraft in the area.

Key Takeaway

Air band radios are a reliable tool as they provide clear and stable communication over long distances. It is mainly used in the aviation industry. The tool is versatile, however, and may also be used in a variety of other sectors. 

Regardless, to operate the device, you must have a valid license. As well as facilitating clear communication, it will also provide data and updates on current conditions that can assist in smooth navigation. 

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