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The 7 Best Aviation Handheld Radios for Pilots in 2021

46k views | 11 min read | Posted on July 06, 2021 by Senne Vandenputte | Last update August 29, 2021

The 7 Best Aviation Handheld Radios for Pilots in 2021

A handheld radio is an indispensable part of a pilot’s flight bag. Not only does it improve safety, but it can also be a great money-saving tool on the ground for (student) pilots. But with so many different models available today, it’s not easy to determine which model will be best for your needs.

In this guide, we’ll discuss some important things to keep in mind when looking for a radio, and we list some of the best aviation handheld radios available today!

The Best Aviation Handheld Radios for Pilots in 2021 and Which one to Buy

In a Hurry? See Our Top Picks

Just click on any image below to see price, ratings and reviews on Amazon.

Yaesu FTA-450L YaesuCheck Price on Amazon
Icom IC-A16B IcomCheck Price on Amazon
Icom IC-A25N IcomCheck Price on Amazon

If you’re interested in learning what to look for when buying an aviation handheld radio, make sure to read our buying guide below as well!

Now, let’s dive into the main part of this article: the different aviation radios available today. We divided them into 2 different sections; the first one covering comm-only handheld radios, and secondly the handheld radios with navigation capabilities as well.

The Best Aviation COMM-only Handheld Radios in 2021

If you’re looking for a basic handheld aviation radio, then a comm-only radio will do the job just fine.

These portable radios offer basic communication functionality and are a great tool for any pilot’s flight bag.

1. Yaesu FTA-250L

At a price point of just below $200, the Yaesu FTA-250L is the cheapest aviation transceiver in the list. This Yaesu radio is an extremely affordable, compact (comm- only) airband transceiver. Featuring an extremely rugged polycarbonate housing with an IPX5 waterproof rating for use in harsh environments with rain, splash and spray. Loud 700mW audio output guarantees that radio calls will not be missed even in noisy environments. The FTA-250L is 8.33kHz Narrow Band capable, with a huge programmable 250 channel capacity memory bank.

What we like about this radio:

  • Simple, convenient design
  • Rugged build-quality
  • Inexpensive

What we don’t like about this radio:

  • Smaller screen size
  • No squelch adjustment knob
  • Headset plug dust cover uses screws instead of rubber cover
  • Lower antenna sensitivity

Check Price on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

2. Yaesu FTA-450L

The Yaesu FTA-450L is a competitively priced (COMM-ONLY) version of the wildly successful FTA-550L (mentioned further down below). Featuring the same easy to operate icon-driven menu system, on a large 1.7″ x 1.7″ Full Dot Matrix Display. The same loud 800mW internal audio speaker guarantees calls will not be missed. The FTA-450L has a programmable 200 channel memory bank, means all favorite channels can be easily stored and retrieved with just a few button presses.

Valued packaged with all the necessary accessories, including 110VAC and 12VDC chargers, headset adapter, Alkaline battery tray, Belt Clip, USB programming cable, and a large capacity 1800mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery.

What we like about this radio:

  • Large easy-to-read display
  • Rugged build-quality
  • Inexpensive

What we don’t like about this radio:

  • Antenna can become loose
  • Programming channels can be a challenge
  • Headset plug dust cover uses screws instead of rubber cover

Check Price on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

3. Icom IC-A16B (Bluetooth)

The Icom IC-A16B is the IC-A14 and IC-A15 successor, featuring advanced functions like Bluetooth and a louder speaker.

Users appreciate the A16’s compact, waterproof design for one-hand operation for working on the flight line, using it for back up in any aircraft, or for use by ground crew. Its 2400mAh Li-ion battery lasts over 17 hours and the radio includes a nice sit in rapid charger. Airband radios are usually operated in high noise environments, so it is essential for the pilot’s radio to provide loud audio. The A16 internal speaker delivers a loud 1500mW audio output with clear sound to cut through cabin or tarmac noise.

Check Price on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

What we like about this radio:

  • Good quality
  • Bluetooth
  • IP67 Waterproof
  • Loud
  • Simple, easy to use

What we don’t like about this radio:

  • Display may be hard to read in bright sunlight
  • Menu can be a little complex

4. Icom IC-A25C

The IC-A25C is Icom’s latest handheld aviation radio. It’s a powerful air band COM handheld with 6 watts of power and an IP57 waterproof rating; weather cannot stop these radios. The handheld transceiver includes a large 2350mAh Li-ion battery, providing a long operating time.

The easy-to-use interface and large 2.3-inch LCD display combine to provide stress-free programming and in-flight operation.

It’s important to note that the IC-A25C does not have Bluetooth, while it’s navigation counterpart (mentioned below) does. Something we would have liked to see, especially for its price.

What we like about this radio:

  • Large, easy-to-read screen
  • No Bluetooth

What we don’t like about this radio:

  • Rather expensive

Check Price on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

The Best Aviation COMM/NAV Handheld Radios in 2021

If you’re looking for a backup navigational device, then a handheld radio with navigation capabilities can be an excellent choice.

These radios can offer features such as VOR and ILS tracking, with some even including GPS functionality. A great way to have a navigation backup with you at all times!

1. Yaesu FTA-550L

The Yaesu FTA-550 is packed with features, yet very affordable. With an oversize full dot-matrix LCD display, the FTA-550 Airband Transceiver provides full communication on the Aircraft communications Band and additionally provides VOR and localizer navigation features on the “NAV” band. The FTA-550 includes NOAA weather band monitoring and the capability of programming up to 200 memory channels with a quick and easy channel recall feature.

PS: We know the Amazon picture is incorrect.. Still an excellent product to consider purchasing as your next radio!

What we like about this radio:

  • Large, easy-to-read screen
  • VOR and ILS
  • Rugged build-quality
  • Excellent value for price (cheaper than comparable Icom radios)
  • Comes with Headset Adapter

What we don’t like about this radio:

  • Headset plug dust cover uses screws instead of rubber cover
  • No Bluetooth

Check Price on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

2. Yaesu FTA-750L (GPS)

The Yaesu FTA-750L is the larger and more equipped version of the FTA-550L. It’s a compact, handheld transceiver that brings to market a full-spectrum aviation COM/NAV radio with NOAA weather channels & weather alerts, VOR navigation, ILS/glideslope navigation, and even a 66-channel GPS WAAS receiver.

If you’re looking for a handheld radio with besides COMM and NAV also a built-in GPS, the FTA-750L is definitely the way to go!

What we like about this radio:

  • Large, easy-to-read screen
  • GPS, VOR and ILS
  • Bluetooth
  • Rugged build-quality
  • Excellent value for price (cheaper than comparable Icom radios)
  • Comes with Headset Adapter

What we don’t like about this radio:

  • Headset plug dust cover uses screws instead of rubber cover

Check Price on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

3. Icom IC-A25N

The Icom IC-A25N is a powerful air band NAV-COM handheld with 6 watts of power and an IP57 waterproof rating; weather cannot stop these radios. The handheld transceiver includes a large 2350mAh Li-ion battery, providing a long operating time. The easy-to-use interface and large 2.3-inch LCD display combine to provide stress-free programming and in-flight operation. The A25N NAV/COM version also features built-in Bluetooth, GPS and VOR navigation.

Check Price on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

What we like about this radio:

  • Large, easy-to-read screen
  • GPS and VOR
  • Bluetooth
  • Great quality

What we don’t like about this radio:

  • Rather expensive
  • Easily knocked off frequency

2021 Aviation Handheld Radios Comparison Table

Below you will find a full comparison table between both Icom’s and Yaesu’s models. This should help you make an informed decision!

Icom IC-A16 Icom IC-A16B with BluetoothIcom IC-A25CIcom IC-A25NYaesu FTA-250LYaesu FTA-450LYaesu FTA-550LYaesu FTA-750L
Amazon rating
ManufacturerIcomIcomIcomIcomYaesuYaesuYaesuYaesu
Specifications
Size (inches)2.1" x 4.4" x 1.3"2.1" x 4.4" x 1.3"2.3" x 5.8" x 1.3"2.3" x 5.8" x 1.3"2.1" x 4.1" x 1.2"2.4" x 5.2" x 1.3"2.4" x 5.2" x 1.3"2.4" x 5.2" x 1.3"
Weight (ounces)9.19.113.613.610.614.514.514.5
Battery type2400mAh Lithium-Ion2400mAh Lithium-Ion2350mAh Lithium-Ion2350mAh Lithium-Ion1950mAh Lithium-Ion2000mAh Lithium-Ion2000mAh Lithium-Ion2000mAh Lithium-Ion
Water resistantYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
SubmersibleIP67 WaterproofIP67 Waterproof3 ft. up to 30 min.3 ft. up to 30 min.IPX5 Water SprayIPX5 Water SprayIPX5 Water SprayIPX5 Water Spray
TX output6 watt6 watt6 watt6 watt5 watt5 watt5 watt5 watt
Display
Display typeLCDLCDLCDLCDLCDDot MatrixDot MatrixDot Matrix
Display size (inches).375" x 1.125".375" x 1.125"1.5" x 2.0"1.5" x 2.0".5" x 1.38"1.7" x 1.7"1.7" x 1.7"1.7" x 1.7"
BacklightingYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Functions
VORNoNoNoYesNoNoYesYes
CDINoNoNoYesNoNoYesYes
GPSNoNoNoYesNoNoNoYes
ILS localizerNoNoNoNoNoNoYesYes
ILS glideslopeNoNoNoNoNoNoNoYes
BluetoothNoYesNoYesNoNoNoNo
Flight planning appsNoNoNoYesNoNoNoNo
Automatic WXNoNoNoNoYesYesYesYes
Memory channels200200300300250200200200
Automatic noise limiterYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Direct 121.5 mHz accessYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Channel spacing25kHz/8.33kHz25kHz/8.33kHz25kHz/8.33kHz25kHz/8.33kHz25kHz/8.33kHz25kHz/8.33kHz25kHz/8.33kHz25kHz/8.33kHz
Accessories
Rechargable batteryIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Battery chargerIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Headset adapterOptionalOptionalIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Alkaline battery caseNoNoOptionalOptionalNoIncludedIncludedIncluded
Cigarette lighter adapterOptionalOptionalOptionalOptionalIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Belt clipIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Other
Warranty3 years3 years3 years3 years3 years3 years3 years3 years
Check Price on AmazonCheck Price on AmazonCheck Price on AmazonCheck Price on AmazonCheck Price on AmazonCheck Price on AmazonCheck Price on AmazonCheck Price on Amazon

Not quite sure whether you need a Yaesu or Icom handheld radio? Check out our extensive comparison guide here!

Why Do You Need a Handheld Aviation Radio?

You might be thinking “My aircraft already has one or two panel-mounted radios, why would I need another one?”.

First of all, it’s a matter of redundancy. In case of unexpected radio or electrical failure, a handheld aviation radio will provide the necessary redundancy so you can keep communicating with ATC and other pilots when needed. The portability of these radios make them the preferred companion for pilots who want peace-of-mind when their aircraft’s panel-mounted radio might not available in certain situations.

When you are being charged on the Hobbs for a rental aircraft, imagine the benefits of being able to get your ATIS report before you ever turn the key. Those few extra minutes of charged time on each flight leg add up. If you fly rental aircraft often, it won’t take long for the savings to offset the purchase price of an entry-level handheld which can then benefit you for years.

A portable radio is the ideal flight companion for every (student) pilot; it practically pays for itself by saving pilots both engine hours and fuel during preflight communications with the tower.

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Things to Consider When Buying a Handheld Aviation Radio in 2021

When looking for a handheld aviation radio, there are a few factors to consider and look out for.

Receiver/Transceiver

This might speak for itself, but always watch out for the very cheap radios; they are usually receivers (not transceivers), that you can use to receive radio transmissions only. If your only intention is to listen to ATC conversations, a receiver would do the job just fine.

However, if you’re really looking for a good handheld alternative to your aircraft’s radio, a handheld aviation transceiver is what you need.

Comm/Nav

Most radios are sold in two different models; The inexpensive model is usually COMM-only, with the more expensive one also offering navigation functionalities. This NAV function is usually able to track VOR’s and even ILS, and could be helpful as a backup when flying IFR. Recently, some of the newer models are equipped with a built-in GPS as well, to offer an even more valuable tool.

Batteries

The type of battery a radio uses can affect how often it needs to be charged as well as its overall size and weight- ask yourself if these factors matter most when choosing which radio would suit you best.

Most handheld radios now use lithium-ion batteries, which can be recharged without replacing them. There are some models that come with a battery pack using AA batteries; make sure to periodically check the battery life and replace them when needed.

25/8,33 kHz

If you’re flying in the EU, this is something very important to keep in mind. Since 2018, EU regulations have changed the spacing of the frequencies to 8,33 kHz, meaning for every single old frequency, there can now be three new ones. As a result, EU pilots are required to use radios that support 8,33 kHz spacing, making the older 25 kHz radios obsolete. Keep this in mind so you can operate your radio legally inside the EU and potentially other countries that might follow in the near future.

All radios mentioned in this guide support the 8,33 kHz narrow band.

Best Aviation Handheld Radios: 25 vs 8,33 kHz

More about the 8.33 kHz implementation can be found on Eurocontrol’s website.

Frequency Ranges

Handheld air band radios are designed to receive and transmit on the VHF (Very High Frequency) bands. If you purchase a com-only radio, it will operate at frequencies between 118.000 – 136.975 MHz (MHz – megahertz). However, if your radio also features navigation capabilities, it will have an additional range between 108.000 – 117.975 mHz.

Many models also include weather channels (between 161 and 164 mHz) and can automatically transmit on the International Air Distress (IAD) frequency, 121.500 mHz, using a dedicated button on the radio.

User Reviews

A good way to determine the quality and suitability of an aviation radio is by reading customer reviews. Check the reviews to see what other pilots have said about their experience with these radios. That way, you’ll quickly find out what to expect and which models are the best aviation handheld radios to purchase.

Conclusion

When shopping for a handheld aviation radio, it’s important to consider what exactly it is you need. If you’re looking for a simple handheld aviation radio to use as a backup, then a COMM-only radio is usually sufficient. If you’re planning on using it as a backup navigational device as well, NAV functionality might be worth the additional investment.

To conclude, here are again some of our top recommendations when it comes to portable aviation radios:

Yaesu FTA-450L YaesuCheck Price on Amazon
Icom IC-A16B IcomCheck Price on Amazon
Icom IC-A25N IcomCheck Price on Amazon

All in all, the best aviation handheld radios for you will depend on your personal needs and budget. Good luck!


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