The ACARS system has always interested me but never found the time to start looking into it and with an unexpected bit of mid week free time on my hands thought it should be spent wisely playing with radios (is there any better way).

The fact that ACARS has sort of passed me by all these years makes this article more from a newbies point of view than a type of “how to” as far as ACARS is concerned. That’s not saying that you won’t learn anything by reading but maybe only if your at the same stage with ACARS as me (i.e, right at the beginning).

Qantus A380 Aircraft

What Is ACARS?

ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) takes information from the aircraft’s systems such as how the plane is performing, identity and position along with other data and sends it out it short radio bursts to be picked up by any ground station in range.

Data can also manually be added to the signals to communicate problems or needs to an airlines support staff.

The thing that has made this system of interest to radio scanner users worldwide is the location data that is sent out at regular intervals from every plane equipped with ACARS. This has spawned a range of free and paid programs that will decode the data and display the aircraft,s relevant position on a world map.

Reception Of ACARS

Because signals are transmitter in the VHF frequency band the usual “line of sight” rules apply for the radio signals but when you consider how high a plane is once its reach a stable altitude this can be a great distance.

A list of the common worldwide ACARS frequencies can be found Here

Freeware ACARS Programs

Spending a few hours playing with more a number of the available freeware programs Ive listed the two below that looked like they were going somewhere.


After install looked very promising with a decent enough looking interface until I discovered that most of the options are not marked up except for a lot of ?????. The download page stated this was the most popular ACARS Software in Japan!.

Although something has been done to make it more usable internationally its not easy trying to work out whats actually going on 🙂

There is a pretty good help file (located in the programs folder) but most of it is general stuff about having the receiver set up properly. After an hour of trying to guess settings and adjusting audio levels it failed to produce even one signal decode. Not giving up on this one though because it looks like it has great potential so will come back and it give it another when I get more time.

You can find this software Here


A cross platform (windows and Linux) that was the only one I had any joy with but still couldn’t get the map to work, assuming it even works the way I expect it too 🙂

Install was straight forward enough apart from my uptight firewall having a few problems when the program tried to access another server but this isn’t anything new. A lot more forgiving with the amount of audio I put into the program, ACARSD was quick to start showing me aircraft data.

If your into planes in a big way the program displays some nice pictures of plane types its has stored with each decode. Even though there are a lot of options the interface has been kept clean and uncluttered but the font on the drop down menu is small and had me leaning into the monitor to read it (probably an option to change it somewhere but was concentrating on fixing the map)

You can download the Windows and Linux version of this software Here

Paid Programs

From what I can tell the best all signing and dancing paid option at the moment looks to be “Planeplotter”. Don’t really like paying for software unless I know I’m going to get lots of use out of it. Luckily there is a 3 week trial version which might find its way onto my PC at some point but only when I have the time and a better understanding of ACARS in general.

If your using some ACARS Freeware that does the job for you why not drop me a line or leave it in the comment section below, you may just save me a lot of hair pulling and shouting at the computer monitor.

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One Response to First Steps With ACARS Decoding

  1. KB5ZCS says:

    Let us know what you come up with on the ACARS thing…..

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