How to Listen to Air Traffic Control, Even on Your Phone

Jun 11, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

“Speedbird 6 Heavy taxi via Foxtrot, turn left Echo Echo, cross one four left, Golf,” the ground controller commands.

Then, a slight pause.

“Taxi Foxtrot, left Echo Echo, cross one four left, Golf, Speedbird 6 Heavy,” the English-accented pilot repeats.

A picture taken from the new Air Traffic Control tower shows Manchester airport, northwest England, on June 25, 2013, during a media preview of the 20 million British pound (31 million US dollars) facility which will be operational in the coming days. AFP PHOTO/Paul Ellis (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Air Traffic Control in action. Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

It’s all in the language of pilots and Air Traffic Control (ATC), and fascinating for the aviation enthusiast. If you’ve got nothing better to do on one night, visit LiveATC.net, where anyone with a computer or smartphone and a passing interest in aviation can listen to control towers live, worldwide, and in full action. Student pilots use it to listen to their local airport to get accustomed to the myriad radio calls required.

LiveATC was launched in 2002 by pilot Dave Pascoe. It runs primarily on user donations and commercial work setting up private ATC streaming.

“I started it when I was working on my instrument rating. I couldn’t hear Boston Approach from my home in central Massachusetts so I placed some receivers near Boston Logan, where those transmissions originate,” Pascoe said. “From that point forward it’s been the result of a large amount of crowd-sourcing and other activities that have enabled the network to grow.”

How does it work?

LiveATC is a digital feed of local receivers tuned to aircraft communications around the world. Perhaps surprisingly, volunteers who live within radio range of airports (generally 15 miles) use spare radio and computer equipment to relay “airband” transmissions into the LiveATC.net audio network. You can bring up the feeds via a Flash player or MP3, and there’s even a series of apps for smartphones.

Worldwide ATC feeds, live

For example, tune in now to JFK’s Tower (scroll down the page). At the time of writing there were no less than 17 aviation enthusiasts tuned in, listening to the comings and goings of planes with call signs like Speedbird (British Airways) and Shamrock (Aer Lingus) on approach or departure. It’s a rapid clip of controllers and pilots working together in an orderly symphony.

Here are the top 50 feeds worldwide, with JFK and Tokyo – Haneda (HND) top of the list. The coverage extends across North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and South America. Your local airfield might also be listed if there’s a volunteer nearby.

What about LHR?

Unfortunately, UK law puts a stick in the spokes to listening to the ATC at Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe and an AvGeek delight, with dozens of airlines from all over the world. Pascoe said the UK prohibits listening to ATC, let alone rebroadcasting it. “They hide behind old laws that have no real applicability in a modern information society,” he said. This is unfortunate, given that Heathrow connects the airlines of the world more so than any other.

Sully and Cactus 1459 from the LGA tower

LiveATC has an archive of every tower communication, and it also has a page dedicated to interesting ATC recordings. There are tail strikes, bird strikes, hail storms and everything under the sun. It’s fascinating.

For example, here is a composite recording of the entire flight of Cactus 1549, the US Airways Airbus A320 that Chesley Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles landed in the Hudson River. Just listen to that incredible instance of professionals at work, maintaining concise and calm communication in the most challenging of circumstances.

Tune in anywhere in the world, and you’ll hear the professionals at work for yourself.

Mike Arnot is the founder of Boarding Pass NYC, a New York-based travel brand, and a private pilot.

Featured image by by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.