This was last revised on January 25, 2022

A short article from long-time scanner listener Bill White, VE1CY
Celebrating 60 years of radio DX'ing and monitoring!

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When I first began to listen to aero radio and public safety radio many years ago, there was only one option, that being to buy a scanner radio and program in the proper frequencies and listen!  (In fact when I first started you couldn't program the radio, you had to have crystals for each frequency!) That was it.  Now of course you can sit at your computer at home, or fire up your phone when out on the road or sitting at the airport, and bring up an on-line feed if there is one for your area, or one from far away if you want.   I have to tell you that both of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages.  I hope to explain this to you in the following table.

I should point out or acknowledge that you may be into using an SDR dongle on your computer instead of a separate radio receiver, but it is likely something you will do at home rather than mobile, and it may mean you are listening in on only one frequency at at time.   I have chosen to restrict my comparison to scanners vs on-line.

I am interested in receiving corrections, additions, or opinions on this topic. 
Comment via FB NS Scanner Page or contact me direct: marscan1 AT

Via the scanner Via the computer or smart phone

1. You must invest in a scanner that is suitable for the civil aero band.  You may want one that also receives the UHF military aero band,

2. You must be in range of the aircraft and ground stations, and this depends mainly on your antenna and location.   Hearing aircraft at significant distances is largely independent of terrain but hearing the airport will be difficult beyond 20 km unless you are in a good spot with a good antenna.


1. You can only hear what someone else has chosen to present on the web.

2. When you bring up a particular feed, there are usually several frequencies being fed, and you have no instant knowledge of which one you are hearing, and no way to turn individual frequencies off and on. In other words you take what you get, and realize that you will hear only one frequency at at a time if there are simultaneous transmissions.

3. At any given time your chosen feed might be down.

4.  In some locations there is a requirement that fed signals must be delayed a few seconds.  I hear this frequently.  I will hear a transmission on the scanner, but will not hear the same transmission on the feed until maybe 30 seconds has gone by.

5. Probably not a problem at home on the computer, but on the go, unless you have a good data plan, you will not want to have the feed on all the time while you are driving.  It might get $$$$.


1. You have complete control over what frequencies you listen to.  This includes being able to turn them on and off on the fly, and as well, to know what frequency a transmission is on simply by looking at the display.  At a glance you know if it is Ground or Tower, etc.

2. Once you have your scanner, which might be relatively cheap, and antenna, it is all free, and unless your power goes out it doesn't go down.  Have a battery powered scanner?  That is even better, at least in times when you need it.

3. If you are happy to be hearing only the aircraft side of things you will hear a lot from your home, and if you live near your airport you will hear the ground side as well.  Never a worry about biting into a data plan. But you will need an antenna on your car to hear much.

4. Depending on your scanner, you can easily listen to other things along with the aero band.  Want to hear fire pages in your area?  Not a problem.   Want to hear ships in the harbour?  Not a problem?   Maybe you live in an area in which the police and ambulance are not encrypted, if so you can listen to them along with aircraft, and turn things on and off as you wish.

5. If you want to search for frequencies or listen to odder things like military UHF including refueling, the scanner is really the only way to go.



1. You likely have a computer and data at home, and you probably also have a smart phone with a data plan to use while out on the road or at the airport.  These feeds are free to use, and therefore you have no investment to be made in a scanner.

2. If you want, you can listen to air traffic far away from your location.  Live in Nova Scotia, but want to listen to traffic at Orlando, or at London Heathrow?  No problem!   It may help in your own region as well. See my statement about my own usage at the bottom of the table.

3. Often the feed receivers are located close to the airport of interest and therefore you will receive clear transmissions from aircraft and vehicles on the ground, and from ATC units such as Ground, Tower and Terminal. Unless you are quite close with your scanner you will likely have trouble hearing this ground based traffic.


What do I do?

This answer is really specific to me, as you will have different wants than me, and different equipment and lifestyle.

I am maybe a bit unusual in that when it comes to aero radio, I don't just listen at the airport to aircraft arriving and departing.  I know that is a wonderful thing, to both hear and see the aircraft,and I do that a lot.  But I also listen to aircraft passing over our region on their way to and from other places. So I am really into listening to Moncton Centre frequencies as well as the more localized stuff.

I live about 20 km away from Halifax Airport, and I have had scanners for decades, so my starting point has been to use the scanner.  I have a base scanner in my study, and a rooftop aero antenna, and can easily hear all the activity at the airport and as well aircraft out to 200 km or more depending on their altitudes.   I have a scanner in the car and an external antenna mounted on the trunk lid edge.  It is just a ham 1/4 wave whip but it works really well.  I have the scanner on almost always when I am out in the car, and mostly listen to aero.  I do also listen to some other services at times.   Mobile around Halifax and suburbs, the ground based traffic from the airport can get scratchy or non-existent.  It really depends on where I am and the terrain.   But I also drive by the airport a lot, and it is wonderful once in the vicinity.  I know exactly at a glance what I am listening to and can turn things on or off at any time.   Just want to hear terminal for arrivals?  No prob, just turn off Ground and Clearance and Tower, etc etc.

I do not normally use on-line feeds.   I have a friend who provides one from the Halifax airport, but I really do not need it, as I have very good scanner gear, which is much more versatile.   But last week I had my wife's car, and no scanner, so guess what, when I was at or near the airport I had my phone out and monitoring his feed, and thankful for it!

For me the main use of feeds is so I can hear the ground-based half of Moncton Centre in the west side of their service area.  Much of the east half is transmitted via their Halifax transmitters, and I can hear them on my scanner.  To get the west side I bring up the feed from Yarmouth, and can hear Moncton Centre's services in SW NS and from New Brunswick. Similarly, I do the same to hear Boston Center's services over the Gulf of Maine and central Maine by bringing up appropriate feeds from those areas.   I can hear with my scanner some of the aircraft transmissions from those areas, but can only hear the ground side via internet feeds.  I really do not do this a lot.  I have to be in the mood to want to listen to the highflyers heading to and from Europe.

And yes, once in a while i like to bring up Orlando, or Salt Lake City or San Francisco.  It is fun to listen plus at the same time watch the traffic on FlightRadar24 or similar site.