Finding Air Traffic Frequencies

From The RadioReference Wiki


Airborne planes can easily be heard from well over 100 miles, so you don't have to live near an airport. If you do live near an airport, you can find out all the traffic control, weather, and Traffic Advisory frequencies by entering the airport at AirNav.

At most small airports that don't have control towers, the UNICOM frequency is used by the pilots use to talk to each other, usually 122.700, 122.800, 122.900, 123.000 or 123.050. Airports with control towers usually have an assigned Unicom channel of 122.950. Most airports large enough to have control towers have the following types of channels:

  1. ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service)- Weather, equipment failures, closed runways and taxiways, current operating runways, special notes, and NOTAM's.
  2. Clearance Delivery - The pilot uses this frequency to notify a controller of his flight intentions and to receive flight instructions and clearance for take-off.
  3. Ground Control - The ground controller tells the pilot which taxiways to use to arrive at the correct runway.
  4. Tower - The Tower Controller is responsible for the aircraft in the immediate area around the airport (Up to 3000 feet and 5 miles from the airport). Once the aircraft leaves the airspace of the airport, the pilot will be handed off to a controller at a TRACON(Terminal Radar Approach Control) or an ARTCC Center (Air Route Traffic Control Centers), commonly called Air Traffic Control).
  5. Approach Control(TRACON) - Directs several lines of descending aircraft into one smooth flowing line of aircraft as their courses take them closer to the destination airport.
  6. Departure Control(TRACON) - Routes air traffic immediately upon takeoff via a preferential departure route (PDR) leading away from the departure airport as the aircraft ascends to the en route phase of flight.

General Commercial Frequencies

118.000 - 121.400 Air Traffic Control (See AirNav)
122.000 - 123.650 Unicom, Flight Services, Traffic Advisory (CTAF) (See AirNav)
123.675 – 129.800 Air Traffic Control (See AirNav)
128.825 - 132.000 Company Airlines Operational Control
136.500 - 136.975 Company Airlines Operational Control
More specific info can be found at: Aircraft Frequencies

Aircraft Emergency/Distress

(See Note 1)

121.500 VHF Guard
243.000 Military UHF Guard
406.000 New Air Emergency (See Note 1)

Air to Air

Some of the more popular:

123.4500 Itinerant channel
123.0250 Helicopter
122.7500 Fixed Wing

Company Airlines Operational Control

When aircraft are within 20-30 minutes of their destination, they call in on freq's 128.825 - 132.000 and 136.500 - 136.975 to report equipment malfunctions, delays, rerouting, and the special needs, such as wheelchairs and un-accompanied minors(UM). Sometimes, when they are about 10 minutes off the ground on their trip away from the airport, they call back with the times they were off the gate, and off the ground. However, ACARS has replaced some of these communications.

On the ground, there may also be company frequencies in the 460.675 - 460.900 range. Often, you can learn of flight delays, cancellations, or gate changes on the 460 freq’s before it is announced. These are NOT listed at AirNav.

You may find a list of frequencies for operational controls on the ARINC website. They are kept on charts in PDF format, which is linked here

You can also find other air-related frequencies used around a major airport by doing a Geo Search for the Lat/Lon of your airport. Go to:

  • FCC Geographic Search
  • Enter the Lat/Lon of the airport (from AirNav)
  • Enter radius of 1 Kilometer
  • Hit the search.

Identifying Aircraft vs. Frequency

All commercial and private aircraft in the United States use callsigns that start with the letter 'N'. However, the ‘N-number’ is normally not used over the air for commercial flights. Private pilots and air traffic controllers often just use the last two or three digits of the callsign and the aircraft type to save precious air time ("Cessna 23-Hotel"). Commercial aircraft generally use the flight number and company name as their callsign ("United 152"). This can be confusing, but FlightAware will give you a list of possible flights with every combination of those numbers. For instance, if you enter ComAir 5650 in the Flight #, or COM5650 in the Flight/Tail #, you should be able to see that it is really ComAir #50. This will give you departure/arrival airports, and tracking if still enroute.

CodeShare (Airline Partners)

Another confusing area is the Codeshare. It refers to a practice where a flight operated by an airline is jointly marketed as a flight for one or more other airlines. For example, Delta has feeder airline partners with Comair, Chautauqua, Atlantic Southeast, etc. So Delta DL456, operated by ComAir, might be COM456, or even COM56. Flight Stats shows both. However, this does not always relate to what you heard. There are many other similar tracking sites, and they don’t always show the exact same thing, so it is good to use more than one.

For Domestic
For international and worldwide
World Aeronautical Database

Google Earth 3D tracking

With Google Earth installed on your PC, you can not only track one or several flights, but you can “rotate” the view when a plane is near an airport and see it actually descending or climbing. This is really neat! Download Google Earth free. Then go to FBOWeb General Apps or FBOWeb Specific Flights

Enter airline flight info, and click on the “Track in 3D” button. It will “install” the specific flight as a layer on Google Earth, and will also track aircraft in the general vicinity.

Identifying Frequency vs. Airport

When searching or monitoring the airport specific frequencies, such as Aproach/Departure, Clearance Delivery, Tower, ATIS, etc you can usually find out what airport you are hearing by typing airnav freq state, into a Google search box.

I.E. airnav 128.7 Pennsylvania

Another way to get airport frequencies and runway information is AirNav.


  1. 121.500 (guard) is used far more often to communicate with aircraft that have somehow strayed onto the wrong frequency, and ATC cannot get hold of them on their assigned frequency. If they are listening on 121.5 the controller will probably be able to get through to them and get them back on the correct frequency. The monitoring of the 121.5 & 243 frequency via satellite will be eliminated in 2009. Apparently, 'they' are going to the 406 MHz satellite monitoring only. 406 MHz uses some digital encoding when broadcasting that can give aircraft details as well as GPS coordinates.
  2. Here is an Aviation Glossary that takes the mystery out of those abbreviations you hear.
  3. As with any service, there is a large number of specialized terms and phrases. See our Aviation Terminology article for more information
  4. Call Signs and Nicknames
  5. Here’s some additional but slightly outdated info:

Aviation Monitoring
Airline Frequencies