Best Aviation Handheld Radios

Best Aviation Handheld Radios (2019 Reviews)

An aviation handheld radio is an essential piece of equipment for any pilot to have while flying. While it serves as a great learning tool for student pilots, its real value is in being able to literally save your life one day, allowing you to call air traffic control for help or navigate to an airport.

We reviewed handheld radios from Yaesu and Icom among others to identify the best. We considered COM and NAV/COM radios, as well as battery life, Bluetooth, weight, range, channel spacing, GPS, other navigation features (VOR and ILS), memory channels, display type, and accessories. There are only a few models you should consider and put your trust in when it really matters.

Best Aviation Handheld Radios

  • Best NAV/COM Radio: Yaesu FTA-750L, “The most feature packed handheld radio for aviation purposes on the market.”
  • Runner-Up (NAV/COM): Yaesu FTA-550L, “Identical to the FTA-750L but without GPS and Glidescope navigation.”
  • Best COM Only Radio: Yaesu FTA-450L,” The COM only version of the FTA-550L”
  • Runner-Up (COM): Yaesu FTA-250L, “An inexpensive, compact, easy to operate, COM aviation handheld radio.”
  • Also great (COM): ICOM IC-A25C, “The Icom IC-A25C is the COM only version of the A25-N.”
  • Best Radio with Bluetooth: ICOM IC-A25N, “If you want Bluetooth the IC-A25N is your best bet. Also has GPS and every other feature a pilot could want.”
  • With the Best Battery Life: ICOM IC-A14 / ICOM IC-A16,“With a battery life of 18 hours and 17 hours respectively.”

 

We identified the Yaesu FTA-750L as the overall best aviation handheld radio. It has everything a pilot could ever want, including GPS and all the Navigation features like CDI, Localizer and Glidescope Navigation, a good battery life, and even includes accessories like an alkaline battery case. For COM only, the best option is the Yaesu FTA-450L.

Handheld Aviation Radio Comparison Chart

  Yaesu FTA-750L Yaesu FTA-550L Yaesu FTA-450L Yaesu FTA-250L Icom IC-A25N Icom IC-A25C Icom IC-A16 Icom IC-A14
Yaesu FTA-750L Yaesu FTA-550L Yaesu FTA-450L Yaesu FTA-250L Icom IC-A25N Icom IC-A25C Icom IC-A16 Icom IC-A14
Price Check Price Check Price Check Price Check Price Check Price Check Price Check Price Check Price
Ranking Top choice Also great Great option if you don’t need NAV Best value Best Bluetooth model Also great Worthy direct upgrade to the IC-A14 A classic
Pros Feature packed, includes accessories Large screen, includes accessories Large screen, includes accessories Battery life, price Bluetooth, easy to use Easy to use Battery life, lightweight, easy to use Battery life, easy to use
Cons Learning curve Learning curve Learning curve Small screen, not alkaline battery tray compatible Accessories must be bought separately Accessories must be bought separately Small screen, accessories must be bought separately Small screen, accessories must be bought separately, no 8.33 kHz
Bottom Line The best Yaesu model Excellent if you don’t need everything the 750L offers Bigger screen and meets MIL-STD 810 standards (comapared to 250L) Best value for money Best Bluetooth model COMM only version of A25N, though not much cheaper Worthy direct upgrade to IC-A14 Great but may be outdated – Beware of no 8.33 kHz spacing
Battery Type 1800 mAH Lithium-Ion 1800 mAH Lithium-Ion 1800 mAH Lithium-Ion 1950 mAH Lithium-Ion 2350 mAH Lithium-Ion 2350 mAH Lithium-Ion 2400 mAH Lithium-Ion 2000 mAH Lithium-Ion
Battery Life 12 hrs 12 hrs 13.5 hrs 16 hrs 10.5 hrs 10.5 hrs 17 hrs 18 hrs
Navigation (VOR) Yes Yes No No Yes No No Yes
GPS Yes No No No Yes No No No
Course Deviation
Indicator (CDI)
Yes Yes No No Yes No No No
ILS Navigation
(Localizer)
Yes Yes No No No No No No
ILS Navigation
(Glidescope)
Yes No No No No No No No
Bluetooth No No No No Yes No No No
Display Type Dot Matrix Dot Matrix Dot Matrix LCD LCD LCD LCD LCD
Display Size 1.7″ x 1.7″ 1.7″ x 1.7″ 1.7″ x 1.7″ 0.5″ x 1.38″ 1.5″ x 2.0″ 1.5″ x 2.0″ 0.375″ x 1.125″
Unit Size 2.4″ x 5.2″ x 1.3″ 2.4″ x 5.2″ x 1.3″ 2.4″ x 5.2″ x 1.3″ 2.1″ x 4.1″ x 1.2″ 2.3″ x 5.8″ x 1.3″ 2.3″ x 5.8″ x 1.3″ 2.1″ x 4.4″ x 1.3″ 2.09″ x 4.71″ x 1.43″
Memory Channels 200 200 200 250 300 300 200 200
Weight 14.5 oz 14.5 oz 14.5 oz 10.6 oz 13.6 oz 13.6 oz 9.1 oz 15.2 oz
IP Rating IPX5 IPX5 IPX5 IPX5 IP57 IP57 IP67/IP54 IPX4
MIL-STD 810 Standard Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
TX Output 5 watt 5 watt 5 watt 5 watt 6 watt 6 watt 6 Watt 5 watt
Output Power (Carrier) 1.5W 1.5W 1.5W 1.5W 1.8W 1.8W 1.8W 1.5W
Channel Spacing 25 kHz / 8.33 kHz 25 kHz / 8.33 kHz 25 kHz / 8.33 kHz 25 kHz / 8.33 kHz 25 kHz / 8.33 kHz 25 kHz / 8.33 kHz 25 kHz / 8.33 kHz 25 kHz
Alkaline Battery Case (Included) Yes Yes Yes No Buy Separately Buy Separately Buy Separately Buy Separately
Cigarette Lighter Adapter (Included) Yes Yes Yes Yes Buy Separately Buy Separately Buy Separately Buy Separately

8 Top-Rated Handheld Aviation Radios

Best NAV/COM Radio: Yaesu FTA750L

Top Pick Everything a pilot could ever want and need from a radio.

$366.84 USD
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The Yaesu FTA-750L is the most feature packed handheld radio for aviation purposes on the market, containing everything you need while flying.

It has VOR and ILS Navigation, as well as a Course Deviation Indicator (CDI). Best of all, along with the Icom IC-A25N, it is the only transceiver on this list that has GPS functionality – a 66 channel WAAS GPS receiver.

Its only downside is that it can be a little hard to get up and going while you learn how to program it. Once some time is spent with the device, however, it soon becomes second nature.

At 14.5 ounces, the FTA750L is one of the heavier handhelds, but its Dot Matrix display is large enough at 1.7” x 1.7” to be easy to read.

Battery life stands at 12 hours, and an alkaline battery case and cigarette light adapter are included without the need to purchase them separately.

Yaesu FTA-750L Key Features

  • GPS
  • Localizer/Glidescope Navigation
  • 12-hour battery life
  • Includes alkaline battery case and cigarette lighter adapter

 

Runner-Up (NAV/COM): Yaesu FTA-550L

Runner Up Identical to the FTA-750L but without GPS and Glidescope navigation.

$280.49 USD
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The Yaesu FTA-550L is similar to the 750L is many ways. The only real difference between the two include the less expensive 550L not coming with GPS or ILS Navigation (localizer component is included, not glidescope).

The included accessories are the same, as is the 1.7” x 1.7” Dot Matrix display, 12 hour battery life, and 200 memory channels amongst other things.

If you don’t need the GPS and Glidescope, you may as well save yourself some money and go with the cheaper FTA-550L.

Yeasu FTA-550L Key Features

  • 12-hour battery life
  • Localiser Navigation
  • Includes alkaline battery case and cigarette lighter adapter

 

Best COM Only Radio: Yaesu FTA-450L

Top COM Only Radio COM only version version of the FTA-550L.

$231.93 USD
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The Yaesu FTA-450L is the COM only version of the FTA-550L. The only differences between the two are that this model doesn’t come with any ILS Navigation at all. It still has the same specs, included accessories, and great reliability that Yaesu products are known for.

There is one other difference which turns out to be a plus, despite the 450L’s lower price point. Its battery life stands at 13.5 hours instead of the 12 hours of the 550L and 750L.

Yeasu FTA-450L VHF Comm Key Features

  • 13.5-hour battery life
  • 200 memory channels
  • Includes alkaline battery case and cigarette lighter adapter

 

Runner-Up: Yaesu FTA-250L

Yaesu FTA-250L Handheld VHF Airband Transceiver (Comm only)

The Yeasu FTA-250L is an excellent COMM only VHF handheld radio. It is of course therefore not as feature packed as other models by Yeasu and Icom, but it does have a couple of very strong selling points for being a COM only model, especially considering it low price point.

For one, at 10.6 ounces and measuring 2.1” x 4.1” x 1.2”, it is very light and compact. Its battery life at 16 hours is also superb. It’s good to see that a cigarette lighter adapter is included without the need to purchase one separately. The 250 memory channels also beat out more expensive models that come with fewer.

One thing to note is that its squelch adjustment could also be easier.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive, compact, easy to operate, COM aviation handheld radio the FTA-250L is an excellent choice.

View Price and Reviews

Key Features:

  • 16-hour battery life
  • LCD display
  • Weighs 10.6 oz.
  • Includes cigarette lighter adapter

Also Great: ICOM IC-A25C

ICOM A25C Handheld Airband Radio - Communication Channels Only

The Icom IC-A25C  is the COM only version of the A25-N, so you’re won’t be getting Bluetooth, GPS or VOR Navigation.

Considering the minimal price difference it is recommended to give the model a miss and go for the A25N, unless you are absolutely sure that you will not need the additional NAV channels.

View Price and Reviews

Key Features:

  • 10.5-hour battery life
  • LCD Display
  • 300 memory channels

 

Best Radio with Bluetooth: Icom IC-A25N

Best Bluetooth Radio If you want Bluetooth the IC-A25N is your best bet. Also has GPS and every other feature a pilot could want.

$443.98 USD
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If you’re looking for an a handheld aviation radio with Bluetooth you’ve found it in the Icom IC-A25N. Not only does the A25N have Bluetooth but it is also one of the very few models to also have built-in GPS. These two features alone will make it the first port of call for anyone looking for a handheld radio. Yet the A25N also has a few other things going for it.

It has VOR Navigation CDI, as well as more memory channels than any other model at 300. Its LCD display is also oversized, measuring 1.5” x 2.0”, making it easy to read. Arguably, it is easier and more intuitive to use and program that any Yaesu model too.

Battery life stands at 10.5 hours. As with all Icom units, an alkaline battery case and cigarette lighter must be purchased separately.

Icom IC-A25N

  • Bluetooth
  • GPS
  • 10.5-hour battery life
  • VOR Navigation

 

With the Best Battery Life: Icom IC-A14/IC-A16

Icom IC-A16 VHF COM Aviation Handheld

The IC-A14 is a good aviation radio that has been trusted by many pilots over the years. It is the heaviest model at 15.2 ounces, and has a very impressive battery life of 18 hours. Its screen is a little harder to read than others due to measuring just 0.375” x 1.125”. One thing to keep in mind is that 8.33 kHz channel spacing is not available on this radio.

If you’re looking for a direct upgrade of the A14 VHF Air Band transceiver , you should consider the recently released IC-A16.

The A16 is quite a bit lighter – in fact it is the lightest model at just 9.1 ounces. It has a battery life of 17 hours compared to the 18 hours of the A14, which is still superb. Other features and enhancements include 8,33 kHz and 25 kHz spacing, greater protection (IP67 instead of IPX4), larger capacity battery (2400 mAh instead of 2000 mAh), and louder audio. There is also a Bluetooth version available – Icom IC-A16B.

Icom IC-A14: View Price and Reviews

Icom IC-A16: View Price and Reviews

Icom IC-A14 Key Features

  • 18-hour battery life
  • VOR Navigation
  • LCD Display

Icom IC-A16 Key Features

  • 17-hour battery life
  • LCD Display
  • Weighs 9.1 oz.

 

Who Should Buy an Aviation Handheld Radio

In short, all pilots should buy a handheld aviation radio as it could literally save your life. When trouble strikes it enables you to call ATC for help and navigate to an airport for an emergency landing. You don’t necessarily have to spend too much money either. If you don’t need any navigation features or Bluetooth you can save a bit.

Important Features to Consider

  • COM/NAV

You’ll find that VHF handheld radios come as COM only or both COM and NAV. Inevitably, the radio with NAV functionality will be more expensive.

  • Battery Life

The battery life of a handheld aviation radio can last anywhere between just over 10 to 18 hours. Typically, with all things being equal a larger mAH rating means a longer battery life, as the battery can store more power.

However, this isn’t always the case because it also depends on the quality of the battery itself, as well the number of features the radio has. If a radio has GPS and ILS Navigation, for example, this will influence battery life compared to a model that doesn’t have to power this functionality.

It’s also a good idea to consider if the radio you are interested in can take alkaline batteries as well as rechargeable ones. As is whether the alkaline battery case required for this comes included or must be purchased separately. Being able to use both can certainly come in handy, and can save you money if included in the package.

  • Channel Spacing (25/8.33 kHz)

This isn’t usually too much of a factor to consider because 25 kHz and 8.33 kHz channel spacing is present on almost all the models. The only exception to this is the Icom IC-A14, which only has 25 kHz. It has already been out for a while and is being discontinued and replaced by the Icom IC-A16 in any case.

This is important to know because according to EU regulations, pilots are required to use radios that have 8.33 kHz channel spacing.

  • Accessories

Generally, all Yaesu models come with useful accessories like an alkaline battery case and cigarette lighter adapter expect the FTA-250L.

Icom radios, on the other hand, require you to purchase these accessories separately. If you buy an Icom radio and really want these accessories the cost can soon add up.

  • Weight/Size

The weight and size of the radio usually isn’t too much of a concern for most pilots, but it’s still something to keep in mind if you want a compact, lightweight radio that can fit in your pocket and be as easy to hold as possible.

  • Display Size and Type

There are two aspects of a radio’s display to consider: its display type and size. You will probably want a radio that doesn’t have a tiny screen, so you can read the information more easily and without squinting.

You will see that a radio either has a Dot Matrix or LCD screen. An LCD screen is the easier of the two to read, although considering you will likely only be viewing simple text and images this might not be too much of a concern, especially if you’re buying a COM only radio.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the range of aviation handheld radios?

The majority of VHF aviation handheld radios have a range of between 5 and 10 miles. Beyond 10 miles things get a little complicated because it is dependent on the model.

Typically, more expensive models allow transmissions to be readable further away. Either way, even inexpensive radios have enough range when experiencing an emergency.

Should you buy a COM only or NAV/COM handheld aviation radio?

Whether you should buy a COM only or NAV/COM radio comes down to your needs. Some pilots do not need to depend on a radio with navigation capabilities while flying whereas others do.

Considering the price differences between the two usually aren’t huge, it might be a good idea to initially spend a little more on a NAV model if you think you will probably upgrade later down the line. Something like the Yaesu FTA-550 NAV/COM or FTA-750 are popular with pilots.

Why is AM used in aviation?

One of the main reasons why AM is used in aviation is because when aviation bands started a long time ago it was simpler and less expensive to make equipment for amplitude modulation (AM)– not to mention more reliable. AM is more concerned with the human voice than FM where a wide spectrum of audio is required.

AM isn’t as dependent on outside conditions, can travel a greater range, and multiple signals transmitted on the same channel can be heard so the capture effect doesn’t become an issue.

Is listening to air traffic control legal?

Listening to air traffic control is generally legal, but there are a couple of aspects to consider. We recommend referring to the FCC’s Interception and Divulgence of Radio Communications for further explanation, especially if you may be interested in buying an aviation radio, not because you are pilot, but because you have a great interest in all things aviation.

What is the airband or aircraft band allocated to radio communication?

The group of frequencies in the VHF radio spectrum is between 108 and 137 MHz.