Civil Air Traffic Simultaneously on Your Computer Screen and Scanner
Bill's Radio Site
formerly the THE MARITIMES SCANNING SITE
Last updated June 17, 2012
This page will tell you how
you can see on the computer screen the aircraft you are hearing on the scanner.
It is oriented towards those listeners who are located in Nova Scotia or the
Maritimes in general but the concept works everywhere. I will be
discussing high-flying aircraft but the concept works for low-level localized
traffic as well. I am NOT an expert on this and this is intended as
a stepping-off place for you to go off and explore for yourself. For
those who visit and know more than I do, please share your suggestions and
First off, I want to
acknowledge that if you have the money to buy one, there are
boxes available to the public that allow you to more or less see in real
time what the air traffic controllers in your region are seeing.
These not only show civil traffic but also many of the military flights as well.
What I am writing about here is the poor person's alternative and all you need
is the internet and your computer.
Secondly it would probably be best if you also
read my page on low level
traffic in and out of Halifax Stanfield International, and my
page on high level traffic
transiting (overflying) the region. In this page I will be
discussing call signs and airline codes. To see those used by airlines
flying regularly in and out of Halifax see this page:
Aero call signs
I use the procedures described here when I am wanting to
listen to the high level traffic passing over Nova Scotia on its way to and
from Europe and the Middle East. The intent is to not only listen on
the scanner but also "see" the aircraft on the computer screen as they
progress along their paths. You could do the same for
local traffic but although I listen to the local traffic on the scanner I
don't bother as much with watching that traffic on the screen.
My comments will be confined here to the high level aspect.
First of all you must pick what frequencies you want to
monitor in your scanner. The possibilities are described more
fully in my page on high level traffic linked above, but if you live in the
Halifax area you will want to use 133.95, 135.2, and 125.25 as a bare
minimum; however I myself monitor other Moncton high level frequencies
used in the Maritimes: 128.375, 132.95, 127.125, 132.7, 132.8, 133.3, 133.7
as well as Boston 134.95 and 133.45 and occasionally 128.05. I do not generally bother with
the Gander frequencies as I cannot usually hear either side of those
conversations however you will hear aircraft being passed to Gander
frequencies, particularly 134.7, 128.175, 132.05, 125.075 at Trepassey,
132.6 and 133.9 at Gander or 135.05 at Stephenville, but you are not likely
to hear anything on these unless you live in northern Nova Scotia. You
may however hear occasional traffic on Gander's Oceanic clearance frequency
of 119.425. See my page on high level traffic linked above for
more frequency information.
Okay, now that the scanner is operating, let's turn our
attention to the computer.
There are two main alternatives available to you for
online depiction of air traffic over the Maritimes and elsewhere.
Note first that neither of them as a general rule depict military aircraft.
These are FlightAware and Planefinder. I do not find either of
them perfect. Both omit aircraft to different degrees, and both
are not the easiest to work with. You will most likely prefer
Planefinder due to its nice display and lack of delay, but I myself often
run into difficulty in reloading it or having it freeze in time.
Because I like to see the regional traffic as well as the high flyers I
prefer FlightAware which shows much more of this type of traffic, such as
what is going in and out of Halifax airport. Planefinder shows hardly
any of that. As I am writing I have been following ABX977, a 767
cargo aircraft enroute from Cincinnati to East Midlands in England. It
is currently just off the coast near Halifax but I am only seeing it on
FlightAware, with no sign of it on Planefinder. Go figure!? In fact you will sometimes encounter traffic on the
scanner and nothing to go with it on either of the websites. I have
just been listening to a Boeing 757 in contact with Gander and heading for
the crossing, but not seen on the screen. Mind you it was some type of
non-airline flight as they identified as 757 Sierra Sierra. Neither of
them show military aircraft to any great extent, however I did recently see
a Canforce flight, most likely a transport aircraft. (No aircraft type was
indicated). Nothing will be perfect, for example as
I write this I am following on Planefinder a number of flights heading east
towards Newfoundland, but in this time there has been a Westjet flight
suspended motionless over the Bay of Fundy for the last half hour at least,
and not only that it is only identified as "229" without Westjet or the type
mentioned, whereas on FlightAware this aircraft was identified more fully
and is long gone towards the west. I also have noted on several
occasions the routing shown for an aircraft makes no sense at all in
Planefinder. For example I am currently seeing a United flight over
New Brunswick and obviously inbound to the US east coast from Europe, yet
its route says it is from Dulles (Washington DC) to Denver, Colorado!
FlightAware lists this flight as being from Manchester, England to Dulles. All in all however, these are
both really wonderful sites if you are interested in observing, keeping
track, or listening to aircraft.
The first alternative is FlightAware, which I will
refer to as FA. FA is based on official information from ATC
authorities and ultimately does two main things. First of all it
brings you lists of aircraft arrivals and departures, past and future, from
whatever airport you choose. While I have on occasion chosen other
airports out of interest, I almost always go to Halifax airport as this is
my local airport by going to the
Halifax airport page at FlightAware.. My main aeronautical radio
interest is the local traffic in and out, as I generally look up at the
arriving and departing aircraft in my vicinity or actually go to the
airport, so I frequently use the lists at FA. Also however I
will be interested in the map that appears
at the top. When this map first comes up it will be centered
on Halifax airport and will be a close-in view and therefore will be showing
only aircraft that have just left or are about to land at Halifax, unless by
chance there is a high flyer nearly overhead. Since we are at
this point interested in high flying aircraft, go to the zoom control at the
top left of the map and click two or more times on the minus
button. You may have to do this one click at a time.
This will bring you to a map scale that covers all of NS plus PEI and much
of NB and the coast of Maine, plus the offshore out at least 200 km.
You of course can vary this to whatever scale you want. You can also
move the map centre around to suit. A screen shot from FA appears
farther down the page. I like FA for the fact that it does seem
to include more aircraft than Planefinder (described below) which omits many
of the regional flights. Also I like that the identifications of the
aircraft by flight number and destination/origin appear right on the screen
as a sort of box. Check this screen shot, that includes the small map
as well as the top of the Halifax airport movements lists. This shot
was taken at nearly 0800 on June 7, 2012.
The flights on the screen are in light blue
for those that are connected with Halifax (as we are at the Halifax page).
For example in the above shot an ExpressJet flight (ASQ5387), a CRJ700, has
just left Halifax, bound for Detroit. Other flights, passing by or not
connected to Halifax are
and in green. For example CKS207 coming up the Bay of Fundy.
The information for flights is
indicated by a symbol in the shape of either a jetliner or a propeller
plane, accompanied by a sort of box of characters such as this:
The top row indicates the airline and flight number,
followed by the aircraft type. The second row is the altitude
expressed as a flight level followed by a speed in knots. the third row is
the airport the aircraft departed from, followed by its destination.
Both FlightAware and Planefinder use ICAO codes for airlines and for
airports. ICAO codes are issued by the International Civil
Aviation Organization, a specialized agency of the UN based in Montreal.
Airlines are issued 3-letter codes and airports are issued 4-letter codes.
In the case of airports these are organized by world regions so that in the
above example the E in EDDP indicates the destination is in northern Europe
and the first D indicates it to be in Germany, and the DP indicates the
specific airport. In this particular case the code box is interpreted
to indicated Kalitta Air Flight 207,
a Boeing 747-300, flying at Flight Level 310 (approximately 31,000 feet) at a
speed of 499 knots. It is enroute from New York JFK to Leipzig,
As you watch the map you
will see these symbols and info boxes moving along. You will find that the
FlightAware page itself refreshes itself every couple of minutes (not on the
screen shot!) and when this
happens the aircraft will take a few seconds to come up again. Note
that at this time of day there are not many flights showing. This is
the quiet time for trans-Atlantic flights, with most being cargo flights as
in the case above where you can also see an UPS flight. Most of the
flights shown are actually regional traffic here in the Maritimes. In
times when there are not many flights showing, all of them will have their ID's showing but in busier times there will be a cycling through the aircraft
identifications, although the little aircraft symbols will remain.
You will also be able to move around and centre the map other than on
Halifax, and I find I do that from time to time to perhaps check on what is
farther out in the ocean or up more towards the northern Gulf of St
Lawrence, or in Alabama for that matter.
For more information on how to read the airline and
airport codes keep on reading as this is explained farther down the page.
One caution about FA is that the
information you are seeing has been delayed by a few minutes for security
reasons. This becomes quite relevant if you are using this
map to see what is approaching your location overhead and are planning to
actual look for it in real life. If there is a delay you might
see the aircraft on the screen approaching your location but in actuality it
has already passed over you.
The second alternative for on-screen depiction of flights
is planefinder.net . I
will refer to this as PA from this point on. Here is a screen shot
taken not long after the FA one above.
It is obvious from this screen shot that PF is a clean
display of traffic, without the arrivals and departures list for Halifax and
in fact you do not get to the screen by picking an airport. You start with
the world and zoom into the area you want and can freely pan and zoom as you
wish. The information on PF comes principally from
contributor radar boxes sent in to a central spot and compiled.
The advantages of PF are that you can click on any flight and a box will
appear with the information clearly spelled out as in the EVA Air example
above, but you will note that only one is identified at any given time.
For example the aircraft shown at Moncton is Morningstar 8062, a Fedex
flight between Halifax and Moncton but I only knew that from clicking on it
previously. The other big advantage is that in PF the
information is current, i.e. there is no delay like there is in FA.
On the other hand, PF show very few of the regional flights within North
America and is therefore best for the trans-Atlantic traffic. The
Morningstar flight just mentioned is an uncommon exception, and results from
the fact that PF is based on reception of one type of radar transponder that
is in increasing use but is predominant in Europe and transcontinental
flying at this point.
Here is a shot at 0930 on a typical day, and things are
still very quiet compared to what they will be. You may be
interested to know that the five flights passing along offshore of Nova
Scotia are all Fedex flights from Memphis to Dubai, Frankfurt, Stanstead and
two to Paris. All of these were heard on the scanner from Halifax on
125.25 with the controller heard on 133.95.
Farther down this page I include other screen shots
showing busier times of the day. It is amazing how busy it can get.
For myself I like to use FA most of the time as it shows
many ID's at once and a wider range of aircraft and I am not one who usually
goes outside to see the actual aircraft unless I am lying out on the lounge
in the summer. If you are you will want to use PF due to its lack of
delay. PF is great for being able to see the big picture
all at once with its large map area on the page. In fact now that I
know about PF and am still getting used to it, I imagine I will use both.
A big question for a beginner is the one about the
codes as shown in my Kalitta example above. These websites
use ICAO codes Almost all airlines
have two sets of designators, a two letter one assigned by the IATA, and a
three letter one, assigned by the ICAO. IATA codes are used on
airport public use screens and for schedules, for example AC for Air Canada.
ICAO codes are used for anything official such as air traffic control.
I am going to refer here only to the three letter codes as that is what is
on your FA and PF screen. For Air Canada it would be ACA, not
the two-letter AC. For airports there is a similar
situation. Practically all airports have a three letter code
issued by the IATA and commonly used in schedules, on public arrival and
departure boards, and also on baggage tags, for example JFK, BOS, DTW and
for Halifax YHZ. There are also 4-letter codes
issued by the ICAO and these are the ones used on FA and PF.
All US ones begin with K and almost always are the same as the 3-letter with
the K in front. Similarly all Canadian ones start with C and are
similar to the 3-letter in most cases. For example Halifax is CYHZ.
In the rest of the world the 3-letter and 4-letter codes do not resemble
each other. For example London Heathrow is LHR for IATA coding but is EGGL
for ICAO. For a listing of region and country prefixes, as
well as a list of specific airports associated with flights over and into
Atlantic Canada go to
Airlines have a similar duality of codes from the ICAO
and IATA. These are also explained on the page linked just above.
MORE SCREEN SHOTS,
SHOWING BUSIER TIMES OF THE DAY
Keep in mind
as outlined in my other pages that trans-Atlantic passenger flights operate
in waves, so that Westbound flights mostly are transiting our area from
mid-morning to late afternoon, whereas eastbound flights are from early
evening to around 2 AM, so as to suit business travellers and the efficient
use of aircraft and crews. Outside of these waves there are
occasional odd passenger flights such as charters, but mostly will be cargo
BELOW: By noon local
time the rush westward has begun. On this day the traffic westward
has obviously mostly taken a northern route over the Atlantic and therefore
is coming in over New Brunswick today rather than over Nova Scotia or the
offshore. The few eastbound flights shown are mostly over the
offshore. This separation is partly due to safety issues but
more so is due to the fact that eastbound flights take advantage of eastward
flowing jet stream winds, and westbound flights try to avoid those winds.
BELOW: 6 PM still predominantly westward.
BELOW: Example of the
late evening rush. This screenshot from planefinder was taken at approximately 2300 ADT on June 7,
2012. Note the large number of aircraft heading east with only a
very few heading west. A large clump has just passed by Nova Scotia, and there
are quite a number following behind. This offshore traffic on that line
between New York and the leading edge clump are all listenable on the scanner
located in Halifax, once they are about halfway between Cape Cod and Yarmouth.
Most traffic was heard on 135.2 approaching and passing by southern Nova Scotia
and then over to 125.25 or 133.95 and sometimes 132.75. The controller for
125.25 and 133.95 is simulcast so for myself in Halifax I could hear the ground
side, the controller, on 133.95 with the aircraft on the same frequency or on
125.25. The large clump is in the area where aircraft are handed
over to Gander Centre. In this region it would be to sector
frequencies with a ground station in Trepassey, Newfoundland at the south end of
the Avalon Peninsula. At the time of writing Trepassey had four
frequencies: 134.7, 128.175, 132.05 and 125.075. 134.7 appears to be
used for the farthest offshore traffic. Other than this I have not so far
analyzed what frequency is used for which particular geographic area but it is
common to hear all of these mentioned in the handovers from Moncton.
BELOW: The same on FlightAware. about half an
hour later. This shot of FlightAware was taken about 1/2 hour after the planefinder shot
The screen on FA is much smaller however it can be zoomed. You will
see that on this screen the identifications of many of the aircraft show at the
same time and without being clicked on, unlike PF where you can only see one ID
at a time. In FA only some ID's show at any particular time. For example
in the shot below, in the bottom left only Delta 136, United 90 and Cactus
706 are shown with ID's. In a few seconds the display will cycle and their
ID's disappear and others come up. Notice that on FA, the aircraft heading
to Halifax or leaving from there are in blue, because I defined Halifax Airport
as my place of interest when I opened FlightAware. Underneath the
map screen you will see the beginnings of the flight information in and out of