What the Heck is Airband?

The CC Skywave™ has prompted a lot of curiosity on “what might I hear on Airband?”.


The primary purpose of Air traffic control worldwide is to prevent collisions, organize and expedite the flow of traffic, and provide information and other support to pilots. It was difficult to find any “history” of airband but it appears that it was first used extensively after World War I and after 1921 at Croydon airport in London.

The Airband radio frequencies play a critical part for all civilian aviation including every flight you have been on. All flights use radio to be cleared for takeoff, landing and changes during the flight to avoid accidents or conflicts. Conversations can be dry, lively, funny or dramatic. We have one customer using the CC Skywave to monitor the ground to pilot communication at the local air races.

Navigation and air traffic control have changed over time and many areas use additional sophisticated systems to help prevent accidents.

According to Wikipedia, Airband, also referred to as Aircraft or Aviation band, is a group of frequencies in the VHF radio spectrum that are allocated to civil aviation radio communications. VHF is a short range, line of site transmission. Our radio covers 118 – 137MHz for Airband. In most countries a license is required to operate airband equipment but that appears to apply only to transceivers, not receivers. In some countries it is illegal to listen to or monitor the Airband without authorization (even in the UK).

The language that is used to communicate on this band can be a challenge to follow. Ken Hoke’s article on Stuff Pilots Say, gives some great insight into the meaning of the seemingly cryptic language used on Airband. His tips on a few basic phrases will really help you understand what is being said. Another great article by Ken is “How Pilots Communicate

Why we decided to include Airband in our radio… Here is Bob Crane’s answer:

“When you are in a big airport you are sometimes subject to the whims of security and circumstance. TSA does a great job but when the process gets a little tense I yearn for more information. I want to know everything that will affect my tiny domain. When you listen to aviation band you can usually figure out more by reading between the lines on what pilots and the control tower are talking about. Sometimes you gain a sense of power and wisdom as you do with any knowledge.”

For more information on what you might hear or how to listen, visit the links below.



Tell us your best travel story to be entered to win a CC Skywave. One entry per person. Winner will be drawn on March 1st.

Congratulations to Clifford Milner the winner of the CC Skywave Radio!

If you’d like to be extremely entertained, read the comments from last year’s entries about their best airline story https://news.ccrane.com/2015/02/17/what-is-airband-aviation-band-on-a-radio/#comments

125 Responses to “What the Heck is Airband?”

  1. cwm21 Says:

    AirBand was the original name for the Air Guitar players that used to tour karaoke bars

  2. ccrane2016 Says:

    My best travel story

    My best travel story was when I went to Manaus, the largest city in the state of the Brazilian Amazon, the first time to setup a manufacturing facility for Kodak in the mid nineties. It was my first time there and the excitement started as I arrived at the the hotel. It was late evening and as I approached the main entrance glass door I noticed what appeared to be a fairly large black stencil on the all glass door. But to my amazement the cab driver swatted the hairy tarantula off the door to allow me in. He joking said you better get used to them since they are all around. The next evening I attended a cook out where a giant peacock bass common to the area was being roasted like a pig on a spit. At dusk, thousands of bats would appear doing kamikaze nose dives feasting on the potentially malaria infected mosquitoes. Once back at the hotel I would turn on my portable am/fm radio and listen to local stations wondering how nice it would be to have a compact travel radio that would get local ham users and aircraft. I eventually became accustomed to the area but got to appreciate there is no place like home.

  3. James Eaton Says:

    As part of an aerial mapping crew, we checked weather conditions at Laredo Texas during our flight from Tulsa. This is updated 15 and 45 minutes after the hour. They continued to report clear conditions all the way there and even as we landed in the rain. We had to wait for a couple of days for the actual clear weather and the completion of our work.

  4. Veysel Kula Says:

    Coming close to the age of 50, I personally did have several air travels, and I have my experiences of circlings due to delayed landings, or air turbulences. But, I now remember that in my childhood air travel was mostly restricted only to the privileged, wealthy families. At those times, we, especially living in distant rural villages, were feeling excited, when we saw a plane flying. We were bouncing, shaking our hands, and yelling “hi the plane, extend our best regards to our beloved ones”. In those moments we were in deep curiosity to know what was being experienced in the plane. Now, I realize how exciting it would be if our visual contant waa enriched and supplemented aurally by an air-band radio…

  5. Tracy Hendershot Says:

    Sixteen months ago, my significant other and myself planned a trip to the four main islands of Hawaii. We were excited about all the tropical sights but mainly wanted to escape Minnesota’s frigid cold of February. Now, I thought, as long as we were in paradise, why not get married there? She thought long and hard for about two months, then said “Yes! But you make all the arrangements!” Long story short, we applied for our license in Waikiki, hired a marriage performer, and our vows were exchanged on a beautiful beach at Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on Valentines Day 2015. This was the most happy, memorable moment of my life.

  6. Camden Wood Says:

    I have two air band radios (that I can count). The first time I heard the tower signal from my local airport, I was amazed. I was thinking, can a radio really pick up such awesomeness? Yep!

  7. Bryan Waston Says:

    click an icon to log in

  8. David Lebow Says:

    In 1988 I attended the USAF Ground Radio Repair school for the Air National Guard. This is where I was introduced to radio other than AM-FM broadcast. When I graduated the first thing I did was buy a short-wave receiver for the sole purpose of listening to WWV. I thought the time & information broadcast by WWV was great. Now I’m a General Class ham operator & have a C. Crane on my desk & a C. Crane AM-FM tht stays in our camper to keep updated on news & weather when we visit the Rockies of northeastern New Mexico.

  9. Art Says:

    My best “airband” travel story involves my lovely wife to be, my best man Ron, his wife, and me.
    Ron was the pilot of our single engine aircraft. He flew into Beaumont Texas to pick us up
    and fly to Houston. We piled our luggage onboard. Took only about 20 minutes (we did have
    more than a few pieces). He taxied out to his usual takeoff spot. The tower promptly contacted
    him and “Sir, with your load, you need to go all the way back!” We were all a little nervous
    at this point. Ron taxied out the end and revved like crazy. The takeoff run to get airborne
    seemed to take f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I’m sure we cleared the fence by a good ten feet (or so it
    seemed). We made it to Houston somewhat shaken, but not stirred. I’m just glad we all
    did not have lunch before we took off!!! It would have been interesting as an observer to
    hear the tower communications on the CC Skywave!

  10. Richard Kemp Says:

    I don’t have a travel story nearly as good as those that have already been posted, but I do have a funny one about the Skywave! I used to have this radio. Loved it. Sat outside most nights searching for shortwave stations. It was my first shortwave and I was really getting into it. One day while I was at work, one of the puppies rescued from an abandoned house next door, managed to grab the radio off a table and began chewing. I found bits all over the yard. I was beyond pissed. It doesn’t even seem like it would be that tasty!

  11. Jay Rudko Says:

    In 1975, I was stationed for three months on Johnston Island on temporary duty. While I was there, I was volunteering at the AFRTS station there. One day, the chief engineer there got a reception report for the station, having picked it up on 1250 kHz about a week before. He also gave a detailed summary of what he heard. What made this very strange is his report was accurate, but from about five years earlier. The station had moved from AM to FM about 4 years earlier. Question is, where had that signal been?

  12. Marc Cerny Says:

    We went on a fishing trip to Sasketchewan, Canada. Canoe Lake was the best place to fish that I have ever been.
    The fishing was fantastic………….

  13. Mark A. Says:

    About 15 years ago when the Manchester New Hampshire airport was much smaller, I used to drive up there with my young children and park on the back side of the airport and watch the planes taxi and take off. I had brought my scanner which included the air band frequencies. The tower would talk to the pilot and a few minutes later the aircraft would move out from the gate, taxi and take off. We couldn’t see the gates, but could see the aircraft taxi and take off. Back then only a few different airlines were using the airport and it took just a few minutes for me to figure out the colors of the various airlines aircraft. So, the tower would talk to the pilot, then I could tell my children the color of the plane that they would see in just a few minutes. My children thought it was magic that I could predict the color of the planes that they would soon see!

  14. Jim Stoneback Says:

    When I was 14 years old, we lived in Germany (Dad was in the Army). We went on a vacation to the German Alps, stayed in a picturesque hotel on an alpine lake. I spent many hours on the veranda overlooking the lake, tuning around the shortwave bands on my Dad’s Transoceanic radio. Voice of America, the BBC, Radio Moscow, Spain, Cuba, hams AM mode on 80 and 40 meters. What a memory!

  15. Bill Jollie Says:

    20 years ago I flew into the Athens Greece airport on a small air craft operated by Lufthansa. The pilot warned us to strap in early; the descent would be bumpy. That was the cue for the woman next to me to pull out her small suitcase, which turned out to be a cosmetics case. She made herself up so professionally that I thought “someone will be delighted to see her.” The ride got bumpier, a glance out the window showed small dots of tree tops. Suddenly a huge downdraft hit the plane. EVERYONE — including the flight attendants — screamed. Another glance out the window; I could count the individual leaves on the trees. The pilot angled a climb so steep I was afraid we’d stall. My neighbour lost it completely. She spent the rest of the approach clutching my arm with both of hers, sobbing as streaks of her once beautiful make up irrigated my suit. I had to pry her fingers off upon landing; my arm showed bruises the next day.

  16. Joel Resnick Says:

    Aircraft band radio signals as well as AM/FM/SW/TV and other types of RF transmissions have occasionally become trapped within the upper layers of the ionosphere and the troposphere. Those same signals have been known to return back to Earth at unexpected times, sometimes many years later and occasionally on currently unused frequencies in various parts of the world other than the original transmission point country. The phenomena does occasionally cause confusion and interference to currently existing signals that are being transmitted on that same frequency..

  17. Michael Buttry Says:

    I have a little crappy SW radio that I take on trips with me all the time. It even traveled with me to many National Guard Annual Training road trips and did the job. Yet the best time I’ve had with it is when the Mrs and I go to a (rented) secluded cabin in Southern Illinois. It’s a nice place and way back in the woods and has no wifi/internet at all. Cell phone service is flaky but pulling down SW stations is awesome. I’ve been many places as a military brat and later in the Army, but have to say I can still travel to other countries with my shortwave receiver. I find it more reliable than my smartphone.

  18. Geo Kessler Says:

    The wind whistling thru your ears.

  19. Terrell Hamilton Says:

    Back in the ’90’s, during Desert Storm days, we were being deployed everywhere. A friend of mine was sent to Surinam, formerly Dutch Guiana, I believe, at the top of South America. As he was packing up, he showed me a tiny shortwave radio similar to the SkyWave. I scoffed, thinking that would be fairly useless in a US Army camp carved from the jungle, miles from anywhere. When he returned, he told me that at night, the tent he was in was filled with people who came to listen to music, news, weather, and sports over his small transistor radio. There was not any mail service, and that small radio served to keep them in touch with a home that was far, far away..

  20. Barbra Says:

    In 1995 my husband and I flew to Mexico City to see a dear friend.
    My husband sat next to the window , then me center and a Venezuelan rancher on my right. We were on the left side of the plane. We were approaching Mexico City for landing and in an instant the plane was left wing pointing down towards the ground. We were low altitude . How did I know? Screaming filled the cabin. I looked to my husband and he was leaning against the window and straight out that window was a full view of buildings and landscape below us, very visible and distinctive, tops of buildings. We were straight up and down the wrong up and down. The mature man next to me was screaming , repeatedly, oh my god! I looked past him, he was leaning on me and saw the people on the other side of the isle up in the air where the ceiling should have been. I took the gentleman’s hand and told him it is okay, it is going to be okay. That position lasted about 30 + seconds. The interesting thing is that there was never an announcement as to what happened. Just back to proper position and land at the airport. Thank goodness.
    There was always a question and always will be as to what actually happened. We wonder if it was another plane and the air controller did not see us on the screen. Hmmmmmmmmmm!

  21. Joel Resnick Says:

    As a pilot, the condition stated above by Barbra does occur when either a minor wind shear condition does occur, or when there is a temporary heavy turbulence condition generally within 1000 to 2000 feet above the average topography. Commercial and private pilots do train for these occurrences and respond to them as needed while on either approach or departure. The CC Skywave is a great backup receiver in the case of an aviation transceiver receiver having a problem in mid flight.

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