So far I've installed a quite a few aviation apps on my iPhone and iPad, testing and using them to see if they are useful or not (ie. I feel compelled to use them regularly, or whether they get deleted). My use of the apps will probably change over the course of being a student pilot through to being fully qualified. For example in the early stages of training, navigation apps are not exactly of use, but I'm sure will top the list by the time the PPL box is ticked in my log book. I'll take that into account as I form an opinion on the various apps.
LiveATC then, it is currently near the top of my most used apps at the moment. In fact, it is getting used passively while driving, catching the bus and even sitting at my desk at work. Why you may ask? Lets try and answer that question a little later...
LiveATC app is an iPhone app which allows live Air Traffic Control communications to be listened to on an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. The content is streamed from the LiveATC website over your 3G or wifi connection. Basically you can listen in on all the communications between Air Traffic Controllers and Pilots. Now the only constraint is that you are limited to the airfields which have a stream via the LiveATC website. So I would recommend checking that your local airports or those you are interested in are supported.
So the app itself, it is very straight forward to use. Once the app is started, you simply select the ATC airport you wish, its various frequencies and then listen away. The one catch I found was that my local airport (YPJT-Jandakot) was missing from the listing in the app. So on the "Home" screen, I pushed the "Refresh Airports" button and a minute later I was in business.
In some cases the streams support multiple frequencies, rather than them split into seperate streams. This is very handy, particularly for my local airport as it meant I can listen to ground, the circuits and the main stream and also Perth Radar at the same time. It seems that they do have a priority order if multiple frequencies are transmitting at once, but it is not noticeable and doesn't seem to be an issue, well not that I've noticed anyway.
So why am I listening to the ATC on the bus, driving and at my desk, when I could be listening to the Bono crank out U2's Greatest Hits? It isn't that I'm an enthusiast who has a desire to listen in for every event, rather, I'm using it as a tool to help me, as a student pilot, become more comfortable and familiar with ATC communications. Basically in my first 5 lessons I truly sucked at talking to the tower. The cheat sheet in front of me didn't help with read-backs and other vital comms needed. Given that effective radio communications if vital to your own and others safety, being competent is critical. So while doing the business of aviating and navigating, communicating must become second nature also.
After a few days of listening to LiveATC, my radio communications has improve significantly. In fact, my instructor commented in the lesson notes that he couldn't believe the difference. I didn't admit to how I'd achieved the improvement, but this is it.
So will I keep using LiveATC as I improve my radio skills. Not sure yet, I have listened to a few international radio channels as well, such as the JFK International Tower (KJFK) and the Perth Airport (YPPH) tower as well to get a feel for the commercial communications. Much the same with different call signs. However the radio communications involving more difficult conditions, such as icing, controlled airspace and non VFR flights was rather interesting. I feel that I'll be tuning into these from time to time as I get further through my training...
See the list of my installed iPhone apps and iPad apps here.