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Introduction to Aero Scanning in the Maritimes

Last updated January 24, 2017


This short page will I hope serve as an introduction to aeronautical scanning, particularly as it relates to the Maritimes region of Canada, and particularly to the Halifax, Nova Scotia area.   My other aeropages will go into detail regarding various particular topics.  This page presupposes that you already know something about scanning, but not a lot about aero scanning.


The Maritimes, which is a region made up of the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick is quite rich in opportunities to listen in on aircraft movements overhead and as well in and out of our airports.    There are at least three main aspects to the aero traffic in this region.   

First, as in other areas, there is the commercial traffic in and out of the airports in the region.   Due to this region not having any really large cities there is not a great deal of this traffic, and consists mostly of Canadian and American regional and short-range inter-regional services by passenger flights as well as some cargo service.   In this category also fits general aviation including private and corporate flights, as well as flight school traffic.     In the passenger category you will observe flights by Air Canada, Jazz, Exploits Valley Air Service, Sky Regional, Westjet and Westjet Encore, Porter, and as well American feeder airlines such as Endeavor Air and ExpressJet.     Also in this category are a few long-distance regular flights to and from Calgary, Edmonton, London and Glasgow.    In the winter season particularly there  is also traffic by these and other airlines to southern destinations.    Additionally there is regular cargo traffic by Cargojet and Fedex (flown by Morningstar Air Express).  Weekly and/or seasonal cargo flights are flown by Korean Airlines and Yangtze River Express amongst others.  This description is necessarily limited in scope but that should give a good idea of the situation.   Of all this traffic the largest part goes in and out of Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Secondly, there is a huge amount of trans-Atlantic traffic that flies over the region on its way to and from Europe and the Middle East.   A glance at a globe will show that the region is right on the path between the eastern seaboard of the USA and these areas on the other side of the Atlantic The map to the left shows the route as a curve but in reality, and as shown on a globe, the path is practically a straight one.   The width of the path is actually a considerably wider band with a variety of individual tracks chosen on a daily basis based on wind conditions.






Multitudes of passenger and cargo aircraft pass over this region every day, mostly in waves occurring at particular parts of a day, east then west then east in a repetitive cycle, but almost always with a few going in the opposite direction.    That look at the globe might indicate that in some cases of origin and destination it would be shorter to fly farther offshore, but in many cases the airline will prefer to stay over or near land as much as possible.     As to where exactly the trans-Atlantic flights fly, this is all to do with wind patterns.    Therefore it true to say that they fly over the Maritimes but one day they might be flying westbound down the spine of Nova Scotia, but the next day this same wave will be flying down over the Gaspe of Quebec and just barely touching the northern parts of our region.    Regardless of where in any day the majority fly, there will always be others not in the crowd.     Overall, in the trans-Atlantic traffic you will encounter a wide variety of airlines ranging from the ordinary like British Airways and American Airlines and Air France and Fedex, to the less common such as Azerbaijan Airways and Air Algerie.   But even the exotic after a while will seem normal, because if an airline flies even one flight daily and you see it or hear it daily you will get somewhat used to it.    Do not expect to see some of the flights on a consistent basis, either because they are not regular flights, or in some cases they do not in fact always fly over our area.   A great example is the daily flight by Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Paris.    This is an extremely long-haul service from Tahiti to Paris with that stop in Los Angeles.  Some days, depending on the wind, that flight will overfly our region, but other days it might fly a considerably shorter route much farther north over Hudson Bay.  It all depends on the wind patterns.   

Thirdly, there are military flights in and over our region.    In the Halifax area there are common helicopter flights in and out of the base at Shearwater.   There are flights as well connected with the base at Greenwood and as well some helicopter traffic in and out of CFB Gagetown near Fredericton.    On a daily basis you will hear American and other military transport aircraft flying over, more or less being just part of the trans-Atlantic crowd just mentioned previously, with the difference being that they are not so much regularly scheduled.     You may also hear actual combat aircraft passing over, though in many cases you might not realize that you are hearing them.    Then as well, in connection with them and as well transport aircraft, you may hear air to air refueling operations going on practically right above your head.    The United States Air Force commonly carries out such refueling over Nova Scotia, and I have a specific page on this topic here on the website.

So, all in all, this is a very rich area for aero scanning and other types of observation.    You may wish to not limit yourself to just listening.  I myself am also interested in aircraft themselves, so that I have often gone to Halifax Airport and both listened and watched.    Otherwise I commonly follow flights on the computer using various on-line services that show the identities and locations of civil aircraft.    So I can watch Emirates 324 passing along the spine of Nova Scotia on the computer screen, listen as the pilot talks to air traffic control, and if the weather is good, and the path is nearby, go out and watch it go over me.

For all of this you need at least a scanner that picks up the VHF aeronautical band.  Most scanners do, but not all are equally good for the task.   My old Bearcat BC-590 simple receiver is my best, but my BCT-15 is also very good.   I would not rate my other scanners nearly as high, and that includes my more sophisticated BC-396XT that is my mainstay for other kinds of scanning.   A good antenna will allow you to hear aircraft at a distance, and also perhaps ground stations as well.    I use rooftop antennas on a regular basis, and can hear aircraft over the Gulf of Maine and nearly to Quebec and Newfoundland.    As mentioned there are alos opportunities to follow aircraft on-line using your computer or even a handheld device.