Considering the most important radio features for aviation use, like COM/NAV capability, GPS, power, battery life, audio quality, and features, we’ve concluded that Yaesu FTA-550L is the best handheld aviation radio for most users.

At the same time, not all aviation VHF radios are the same and have different strengths and weaknesses tailored for different uses and circumstances. Keep reading our top 10 handheld aviation radios review to find a perfect pick for your needs!

Best Budget
Yaesu FTA-250L
8.5
  • Power: 5W PEP/1.5W Carrier
  • Type: COMM
  • Battery: 1950 mAh (10 hrs)
Best Overall
Yaesu FTA-550L
8.8
  • Power: 5W PEP/1.5W Carrier
  • Type: NAV/COMM
  • Battery: 2000 mAh (13 hrs)
Best Premium
Icom IC-A25N
8.3
  • Power: 6W PEP/1.8W Carrier
  • Type: NAV/COMM
  • Battery: 2350 mAh (10 hrs)

As a pilot, having the best handheld aviation radio can greatly improve your flying experience, ensuring clear communication and accurate navigation.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the top 10 handheld aviation radios of the year and delve into the essential factors you should consider when choosing the perfect radio for your needs. Get ready to enhance your flying experience with the best handheld aviation radio!

Yaesu FTA-550L
Icom IC-A25N
Yaesu FTA-250L
Icom IC-A16B
Icom IC-A25C
Yaesu FTA-450L
Yaesu FTA-750L
Yaesu FTA-850L
Radtel RT-590
PEP/Caarrier
5W/1.5W
6W/1.8W
5W/1.5W
6W/1.8W
6W/1.8W
5W/1.5W
5W/1.5W
5W/1.5W
3.5W
Bands
NAV/COMM
NAV/COMM
COMM
COMM
COMM
COMM
NAV/COMM
NAV/COMM
COMM
Battery
2000 mAh (13 hrs)
2350 mAh (10 hrs)
1950 mAh (10 hrs)
2400 mAh (17 hrs)
2350 mAh (10 hrs)
1800 mAh (13 hrs)
1800 mAh (11 hrs)
2200 mAh (10 hrs)
1600 mAh
Audio output
800 mW
350 mW
700 mW
1500 mW
350 mW
800 mW
750 mW
800 mW
N/A
Channels
200
300
250
200
300
200
200
400
200
NOAA
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes

1. Best Overall – Yaesu FTA-550L

Compact and feature-rich, the Yaesu FTA-550L Airband Transceiver is an excellent choice for pilots who require an all-in-one solution. with a perfect balance between features, functionality and price.

Boasting navigational features, NOAA weather band monitoring, and a user-friendly menu system, this handheld aviation radio ensures you stay informed and prepared throughout your flight.

Although the FTA-550L is more cost-effective than its sibling, the FTA-750L, it still offers a wealth of features that make it a great investment for pilots seeking a reliable and versatile radio.

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Specifications

  • Power: 5W PEP / 1.5 W carrier
  • Bands: COMM + NAV
  • Battery: 2000 mAh (13 hours)
  • NOAA: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Design & Build 80% 80%
  • Features 90% 90%
  • Sound 80% 80%
  • Value 80% 80%
POSITIVE
Open headphones are perfect for expansive soundstage and any music genres Great overall package
Top rated open-back headphones reviewed COM and NAV bands
Exceptional quality across the frequency response Loud Audio (800 mW)
best sounding over ear headphones we have tested IPX5 Rating
NEGATIVE
Should not leave charging for over 24 hrs

2. Best Premium- Icom IC-A25N

The Icom IC-A25N VHF features all the latest tech in airband transceivers, such as built-in GPS, VOR navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, and a best-in-class LCD display.

With 300 memory channels and loud, clear audio, this handheld aviation radio is a reliable choice for pilots who need both communication and navigation capabilities.

The IC-A25N’s built-in GPS and navigation features ensure accurate positioning, while its 2350mAh lithium-ion battery offers an impressive 10.5-hour battery life. However, some users have experienced frequency drift issues with the IC-A25N, and it is priced higher compared to other models.

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Specifications

  • Power: 6W PEP / 1.8 W carrier
  • Bands: COMM + NAV
  • Battery: 2350mAh (10 hours)
  • NOAA: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Design & Build 80% 80%
  • Features 100% 100%
  • Sound 70% 70%
  • Value 70% 70%
POSITIVE
Open headphones are perfect for expansive soundstage and any music genres Large 2.3-inch LCD with day mode
Top rated open-back headphones reviewed Slim body profile
Exceptional quality across the frequency response NAV band support
Exceptional quality across the frequency response VOR feature
Exceptional quality across the frequency response Bluetooth connectivity
NEGATIVE
Expensive

3. Best Budget – Yaesu FTA-250L

The Yaesu FTA-250L airband VHF Comm-only radio offers plenty of must-have features in a very affordable and robust package.

It is specifically designed to meet the needs of pilots seeking a cost-effective option for affordable aviation handheld radios.

Despite its affordability, the FTA-250L does not compromise on performance, providing clear communication and a solid range for airband communication.

It features a long battery life, 250 memory channels, lightweight and compact design with a convenient numeric display.

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Specifications

  • Power: 5W PEP / 1.5 W carrier
  • Bands: COMM
  • Battery: 1950 mAh (16 hours)
  • NOAA: No
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Design & Build 90% 90%
  • Features 70% 70%
  • Sound 80% 80%
  • Value 100% 100%
POSITIVE
Open headphones are perfect for expansive soundstage and any music genres Fantastic value
Top rated open-back headphones reviewed 16 hour battery life
Exceptional quality across the frequency response Convenient numeric display
best sounding over ear headphones we have tested Compact design
best sounding over ear headphones we have tested Military Standard MIL-STD-810F compliant
NEGATIVE
True professinal level bar has been set Menu is not the easiest to use out there
True professinal level bar has been set Small screen

4. Loudest Aviation Radio – Icom IC-A16B

The Icom IC-A16B Handheld VHF Transceiver offers basic features but blends reliable performance with a robust body design.

Its dependability and resilience make it an ideal choice for pilots, whether as their primary radio or a backup for VFR flights.

The A16B’s powerful speaker delivers loud and clear audio, while its extended battery life ensures you stay connected throughout your journey.

The IC-A16B is a COMM-only radio, however, and does not support NAV/COM capabilities, which is expected in this price range.

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Specifications

  • Power: 6W PEP / 1.8 W carrier
  • Bands: COMM
  • Battery: 2400 mAh (17 hours)
  • NOAA: No
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Design & Build 80% 80%
  • Features 70% 70%
  • Sound 90% 90%
  • Value 90% 90%
POSITIVE
Open headphones are perfect for expansive soundstage and any music genres 17-hour long battery life
Top rated open-back headphones reviewed 1500 mW audio
Exceptional quality across the frequency response Built-in Bluetooth
Exceptional quality across the frequency response Waterproof rating IP67/54
Exceptional quality across the frequency response VOX capability
NEGATIVE
True professinal level bar has been set Manual is too basic and hard to understand

5. Most Advanced Comm Only Radio – Icom IC-A25C

Icom IC-A25C is a top-of-the-line comm-only radio that comes fully packed with the latest tech and is made for the most demanding pilots who require a powerful communication-only radio and are ready to forego the navigation feature.

The Bluetooth functionality greatly adds additional connectivity options and the large 2.3-inch display features high-quality graphics and is easy to use.

In addition, Icom has emphasized battery capacity and battery management with IC-A25C by introducing a 2350 mAh intelligent battery pack and onscreen battery status monitor for optimized charging and battery health maintenance.

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Specifications

  • Power: 6W PEP / 1.8 W carrier
  • Bands: COMM
  • Battery: 2350mAh (10 hours)
  • NOAA: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Design & Build 90% 90%
  • Features 90% 90%
  • Sound 70% 70%
  • Value 70% 70%
POSITIVE
Open headphones are perfect for expansive soundstage and any music genres Large 2.3-inch LCD with day mode
Top rated open-back headphones reviewed Slim body profile
Exceptional quality across the frequency response VOR Navigation
Exceptional quality across the frequency response VOR feature
Exceptional quality across the frequency response Bluetooth connectivity
NEGATIVE
Only a bit cheaper than NAV model IC-A25N
Does not have ILS

6. Most Robust – Yaesu FTA-450L

The Yaesu FTA-450L Airband Transceiver is a budget-friendly handheld aviation radio with a large display, rugged build quality, and 200 programmable channels.

Its user-friendly interface and robust construction make it an ideal choice for pilots seeking an economical solution that doesn’t compromise performance.

On the downside, FTA-450L does not have GPS capabilities, lacks a waterproof rating, and does not include NOAA weather channels, which might limit its use in adverse weather conditions.

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Specifications

  • Power: 5W PEP / 1.5 W carrier
  • Bands: COMM
  • Battery: 1800 mAh (13 hours)
  • NOAA: No
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Design & Build 90% 90%
  • Features 80% 80%
  • Sound 80% 80%
  • Value 80% 80%
POSITIVE
Open headphones are perfect for expansive soundstage and any music genres Very reliable
Top rated open-back headphones reviewed Large LCD display
Exceptional quality across the frequency response Great value for money
best sounding over ear headphones we have tested Included accessories
NEGATIVE
On/off button inconveniently placed above the transmit button
Learning curve

7. Best with GPS – Yaesu FTA-750L

For pilots seeking top-tier performance, at a reasonable price – Yaesu FTA-750L Airband Transceiver is the ultimate choice to consider.

This high-end aviation radio offers GPS, NOAA weather, VOR and ILS/glideslope navigation and a large screen for easy reading.

With its extensive feature set, the FTA-750L ensures a seamless flying experience, providing pilots with all the information they need to navigate and communicate effectively.

Despite, these premium features coming with a higher price tag, it is still usually a bit cheaper than Icom alternatives.

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Specifications

  • Power: 5W PEP / 1.5 W carrier
  • Bands: COMM + NAV
  • Battery: 1800 mAh (13 hours)
  • NOAA: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Design & Build 80% 80%
  • Features 80% 80%
  • Sound 80% 80%
  • Value 80% 80%
POSITIVE
Open headphones are perfect for expansive soundstage and any music genres Very reliable and well made
Top rated open-back headphones reviewed Large LCD display
Exceptional quality across the frequency response NOAA weather channel support
best sounding over ear headphones we have tested VOR w/GS and GPS
NEGATIVE
True professinal level bar has been set Steep learning curve
True professinal level bar has been set Suboptimal menu

8. Largest Display – Yaesu FTA-850L

FTA-850L is a flagship model in Yaesu’s Airband transceiver lineup and comes with everything you need to communicate while flying.

It comes equipped with a range of features, including built-in GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, noise cancellation, and an IPX5 waterproof rating.

With an improved color display and increased transmission power, it offers reliable communication and flight route navigation capabilities for various flying scenarios.

While it may be most beneficial for low and slow flying, it can also serve as a valuable backup option for IFR-capable aircraft, providing added situational awareness and safety.

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Specifications

  • Power: 5W PEP / 1.5 W carrier
  • Bands: Comms + Nav
  • Battery: 2000 mAh (10 hours)
  • NOAA: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Design & Build 80% 80%
  • Features 100% 100%
  • Sound 80% 80%
  • Value 70% 70%
POSITIVE
Open headphones are perfect for expansive soundstage and any music genres Beautiful 2.4″ TFT color display
Top rated open-back headphones reviewed Intuitive features and capabilities
Exceptional quality across the frequency response NAV and ILS capability
Exceptional quality across the frequency response VOR navigation display
Exceptional quality across the frequency response Bluetooth connectivity
NEGATIVE
True professinal level bar has been set Learning curve
True professinal level bar has been set Not great in direct sunlight

9. Cheapest VHF Aviation Radio – Radtel RT-590

The Radtel RT-590 is a walkie-talkie-style handheld aviation multi-band transceiver that offers basic communication features at an incredibly low price.

It supports 5 band transmitting and 7 band receiving and unfortunately, with the Airband, it can only receive it.

Lightweight and easy to use, the RT-590 is equipped with 200 channels and additional features such as NOAA weather alerts.

This tri-band radio has a power output of 3-5 watts, making it a suitable option for pilots seeking a basic and economical solution for airband communication.

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Specifications

  • Power: 3.5W
  • Bands: COMM
  • Battery: 1600 mAh
  • NOAA: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Design & Build 70% 70%
  • Features 80% 80%
  • Sound 70% 70%
  • Value 100% 100%
POSITIVE
Open headphones are perfect for expansive soundstage and any music genres Extremely cheap
Top rated open-back headphones reviewed NOAA channel support
Exceptional quality across the frequency response Large LCD display
best sounding over ear headphones we have tested AM/FM aviation band receiving
NEGATIVE
True professinal level bar has been set Only aviation band receiving

Best Handheld Aviation Radios for Pilots – Buyers Guide

Given the plethora of options available, choosing the most suitable handheld aviation radio can be overwhelming. To guide your decision, here are the top 10 handheld aviation radios of the year, featuring models from renowned aviation handheld radio brands like Icom, Yaesu, and Radtel. These radios offer a wide range of features and capabilities to cater to your specific requirements and budget, ensuring you stay connected and safe while soaring through the skies.

  • This article reviews the top handheld aviation radios on the market, outlining features and considerations to help them find a radio that meets their needs.
  • It is essential to consider factors such as COM/NAV capabilities, GPS, battery life, waterproof rating, and channel spacing when selecting an aviation radio.
  • Adhere to manufacturer guidelines for usage and maintenance of your handheld aviation radio for optimal performance.

    Features to Consider When Choosing a Handheld Aviation Radio

    When choosing a handheld aviation radio, you should take into account factors like:

    • COM/NAV capabilities
    • GPS
    • Battery life
    • Waterproof rating
    • Channel spacing
    • Accessories
    • Weight/size

    These factors will impact the performance, durability, and ease of use of your radio, ensuring that you choose a device that best suits your needs and preferences.

    The next sections will explore these features in-depth and provide unbiased guidance on making an informed decision for your handheld aviation radio selection.

    COM-only or NAV/COM

    A primary consideration in selecting handheld aviation radios is deciding between a communication-only (COM) or a communication/navigation (NAV/COM) radio. A COM-only radio is equipped with voice communication capabilities only and is typically more affordable and straightforward to use. However, a NAV/COM radio includes a digital CDI display and the capability to tune into a VOR or localizer, providing accurate GPS navigation and enhancing situational awareness.

    Ultimately, the choice between COM-only and NAV/COM radios will depend on your specific needs and budget.

    GPS

    Built-in GPS functionality in handheld aviation radios is crucial for efficient navigation and plays a critical role in emergency situations. GPS-equipped radios provide an invaluable tool for pilots, allowing them to quickly and accurately determine their position, velocity, and time synchronization.

    Choosing a handheld aviation radio with GPS capabilities equips you better for navigation in unfamiliar airspace and provides an efficient response in emergency situations. Some of the stationary and non-aviation emergency radios are also equipped with GPS functionality for added safety.

    Battery Life and Type

    Battery life and type are important factors to consider when choosing a handheld aviation radio, as they directly impact the radio’s performance, size, and weight. Common battery types include:

    • Rechargeable NiMH batteries
    • Rechargeable Ni-Cd batteries
    • Lithium-ion batteries
    • Alkaline batteries (AA or AAA)

    Each battery type has its advantages and drawbacks, such as weight, lifespan, and price. Evaluating the battery type that best suits your needs and preferences, and determining if the radio can accommodate both alkaline and rechargeable batteries is crucial.

    Waterproof Rating

    A radio’s waterproof rating is an important consideration, as it determines its durability and reliability in various weather conditions. Handheld aviation radios with higher waterproof ratings can better withstand exposure to water and moisture, ensuring they continue to function effectively in adverse conditions.

    When choosing a handheld aviation radio, consulting the specifications of the particular radio model to verify its waterproof rating and ensure it meets your requirements is crucial.

    Channel Spacing (25/8.33 kHz)

    Channel spacing is an important factor to consider when choosing a handheld aviation radio, as it affects compliance with international regulations and compatibility with other radios. There are two primary channel spacing options: 25 kHz and 8.33 kHz. While 25 kHz channel spacing has long been the standard in the United States, the European Union has mandated the use of 8.33 kHz spacing to increase the capacity of the communication system and frequency separation.

    Ensure your chosen handheld aviation radio supports the correct channel spacing for your region to ensure compliance with local regulations.

    Accessories and Compatibility

    The availability of accessories and compatibility with other devices, such as headsets and external antennas, is another factor to consider when choosing a handheld aviation radio. Some radios may require specific accessories or adapters to ensure compatibility with your existing equipment. Researching the available accessories for your chosen radio and verifying their compatibility with your current devices to ensure optimal performance and ease of use is crucial.

    Weight/Size

    While weight and size may not be a crucial factor for most pilots, a lightweight, compact radio can be more comfortable to hold and transport. Handheld aviation radios typically weigh between 0.80 and 1.5 pounds and measure 2.10 inches in width, 4.40 inches in height, and 1.30 inches in depth.

    Considering the weight and size of the device and its potential impact on your overall flying experience is important when choosing a handheld aviation radio.

    Comparing Handheld Aviation Radio Brands: Yaesu vs. Icom

    Yaesu and Icom are two leading handheld aviation radio brands, each offering a range of high-quality devices with varying features and capabilities. While both brands are renowned for their performance and reliability, there are some key differences between their products.

    Yaesu radios are known for their long-range communication, noise cancellation, and intuitive interface, whereas Icom radios are praised for their durability and innovative features. When choosing a handheld aviation radio, consider the unique strengths and weaknesses of each brand to find the one that best suits your needs and preferences.

    Tips for Using and Maintaining Your Handheld Aviation RadioConclusion

    Proper use and maintenance of your handheld aviation radio are key to ensuring optimal performance and longevity. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for usage and maintenance, including appropriate storage, handling, and regular upkeep and cleaning. Additionally, use the correct accessories for your radio, such as the appropriate antenna, battery, and headset adapter if necessary.

    Proper maintenance of your handheld aviation radio ensures clear communication and accurate navigation for all your flying adventures.

    Legal Aspects of Using Handheld Aviation Radios

    Using handheld aviation radios is subject to certain legal considerations. In the USA, all radios utilized in the aviation band service must possess a station license or be specifically exempted. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the applicable regulations and obtain the necessary licenses or permissions before using handheld aviation radios.

    Additionally, when transmitting on aviation frequencies, such as CTAF/UNICOM frequencies at non-towered airports, it is imperative to adhere to the relevant regulations and requirements.

    Conclusion

    In conclusion, choosing the right handheld aviation radio is crucial to enhancing your flying experience, ensuring clear communication and accurate navigation.

    By considering factors such as COM/NAV capabilities, GPS, battery life, waterproof rating, channel spacing, accessories, and weight/size, you can select a radio that best suits your needs and preferences.

    Additionally, familiarize yourself with the legal aspects of using handheld aviation radios and maintain proper usage and care to ensure optimal performance and longevity. Armed with this knowledge, you’re now ready to embark on your journey to find the perfect handheld aviation radio for your flying adventures.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    This section addresses some frequently asked questions about handheld aviation radios, covering topics like range, legality of listening to air traffic control, and airband frequencies, for a deeper insight into the world of handheld aviation radios.

    • image/svg+xmlimage/svg+xml
      What is the range of aviation handheld radios?

      The range of aviation handheld radios can vary, but most portable radios typically have a range between 10 and 20 miles. However, the range may differ depending on:

      • The specific model and brand of the radio
      • The type of antenna used
      • The power output of the radio
      • The terrain
      • The weather conditions.
      For instance, the Icom IC-A16B Handheld VHF Transceiver reaches up to 20 miles, whereas the Yaesu FTA-550L Airband Transceiver has a range of up to 10 miles.
    • image/svg+xmlimage/svg+xml
      What is the airband or aircraft band allocated to radio communication?

      The airband or aircraft band, which includes aviation radio frequencies, is allocated to radio communication and spans frequencies in the VHF radio spectrum, ranging from 108 to 137 MHz. This frequency range is specifically designated for aircraft communication and navigation, ensuring clear and reliable communication between pilots and air traffic control.

      By utilizing the appropriate frequencies within the airband, pilots can maintain effective communication and navigate safely through the skies.
    • image/svg+xmlimage/svg+xml
      What radio picks up air traffic?

      Aviation frequencies and allocations are typically picked up by radios, allowing them to access air traffic.

    • image/svg+xmlimage/svg+xml
      Why are aviation radios so expensive?

      Aviation radios are expensive due to limited market demand, high liability costs and regulatory compliance. Furthermore, pilots' discretionary income is often seen as an incentive to keep the prices high.

    • image/svg+xmlimage/svg+xml
      What type of radios do pilots use?

      Pilots typically use VHF radios for communication with air traffic control, with most aircraft having a panel mount radio installed in the cockpit. Some pilots have also invested in handheld radios for more portable solutions. UHF AM is also used for military and some government services, while HF radio is commonly used on oceanic routes.

    • image/svg+xmlimage/svg+xml
      Do I need a license to use a handheld aviation radio?

      In the USA, it is necessary to obtain the necessary licenses or permissions before using handheld aviation radios, as all radios utilized in the aviation band service must possess a station license or be specifically exempted.

    Best Overall
    Yaesu FTA-550L
    8.8

    The Yaesu FTA-550 offers a feature-rich yet cost-effective solution, featuring a large dot matrix LCD display for aircraft communication and navigation capabilities, including VOR and localizer functions on the "NAV" band. It also supports NOAA weather band monitoring and allows for programming up to 200 memory channels with convenient channel recall.