Is a Handheld Radio Required for Flying?

Here's why many pilots carry handheld radios in their flight bag.

Question: I am a student pilot learning to fly at a towered airport. I see lots of other pilots taking handheld radios with them in the airplane. My instructor carries one in his flight bag, for example. I thought the airplane already had a radio installed—why do so many pilots carry a handheld? Are they required?

Answer: Remember the phrase “aviate, navigate, communicate”? It reminds us that communicating—that is, using the radio—is the last priority in the aircraft. That being said, if an airplane has a working VHF comm radio installed, a handheld radio is a backup device—not a requirement. Pilots, especially those who fly in airspace where radio communication is required (Class A, B, C, and D), often carry handheld radios in their flight bag just in case they have a problem with the aircraft’s electrical system, and/or the radio fails. 

Pilots who fly aircraft without electrical systems, such as Piper J-3 Cubs, often use handheld radios because the ability to hear as well as see traffic can increase safety. Instructors often have a handheld radio so that when they solo their learners, they can keep an ear on them in the traffic pattern. Student pilots may also find a handheld radio helpful when they are learning radio communications, as they can use it to listen to the unicom or tower frequency while studying or hanging out at the airport.

Do you have a question about aviation that’s been bugging you? Ask us anything you’ve ever wanted to know about aviation. Our experts in general aviation, flight training, aircraft, avionics, and more may attempt to answer your question in a future article.


New to Flying?


Already have an account?