Updated: Jul 25, 2020
With ever busier skies in the UK and Europe, it was only a matter of time before low-cost traffic awareness systems became available to light aircraft pilots. Whilst there have been several devices prior to PilotAware, none come in this price bracket nor do they offer the same level of features.
I have been using PilotAware daily for over a year so I feel that I have enough experience with it to write a review. I currently use the PilotAware Rosetta which is the latest model, though I have the PilotAware Classic too. Unfortunately, I bought the Classic just days before the Rosetta was released. There is no difference in their capabilities right now, though I believe that the Rosetta is future proof and may be able to do more in the future.
What is PilotAware?
PilotAware is a small portable device that detects other aircraft from various different sources. It notifies the pilot of this traffic via a visual interface such as a tablet or smart phone and through audio voice alerts.
What does it detect?
The company states that their product detects more aircraft than any other. PilotAware can detect the position, altitude and identity of aircraft equipped with any of the following:
FLARM (when in range of an OGN-R receiver)
It can also detect the altitude (and sometimes identity) of aircraft in close proximity, although not the position of any of the following:
Mode C transponders
Mode S transponders
What does it output?
PilotAware transmits the following information to other PilotAware users:
It can also be connected to some Mode S transponders to provide ADSB-OUT. The transponder must be ES (extended squitter) capable and it will require a small amount of soldering. It will also require modification approval from the LAA/BMAA. This is thanks to the UK now allowing non-certified GPS such as the one in PilotAware to be connected to transponders in order to provide ADSB-OUT. This currently only applies to permit aircraft, though it is expected to be approved by EASA for CofA aircraft soon.
Ease of use and reliability.
The PilotAware is powered by a USB power lead which requires 2.1A to run. The aircraft that I fly is equipped with a USB power deck and with the Rosetta placed at the bottom of the binnacle under the windscreen with velcro pads, I have been able to neatly tuck the power lead away.
This position does not obstruct my view and seems to provide the best reception when flying.
The initial set up of the PilotAware can be a little confusing as you have to connect to the device via a web browser and enter your settings and aircraft details. I suspect this wont be a problem for most users, but if you are not very confident with computers you may need assistance. After the initial set up, you would rarely need to access this again, apart from when you are updating your licence which is done annually. However, if you frequently fly different aircraft, you may need to access this menu each time to change your aircraft details.
The PilotAware connects to your tablet or smartphone via WiFi. Once you have set this up, it will usually connect automatically every time. You will also need to use an app that supports PilotAware. At the time of writing this review, the following apps support PilotAware:
Air Navigation Pro
EasyVFR (free version and payware)
PilotAware provides a browser based radar screen free of charge if you do not wish to use the apps. It can also connect to Dynon Skyview avionics if you are lucky enough to own an aircraft equipped with such systems.
The apps tend to remember the PilotAware settings so that they connect to it as soon as you open them up. This means that after an initial set up, you can get into your aircraft and go with PilotAware working automatically.
My favourite app for using with the PilotAware is EasyVFR. This is free and I prefer the way it depicts the traffic to all of the others.
The screenshot above is taken directly from EasyVFR and shows two different types of traffic. The first is a Mode C/S alert at the top in amber. This means it has detected an aircraft with a Mode C/S transponder and although it does not know where it is, it knows that it is nearby and it also displays the relative altitude (-1809ft). The second traffic alert is the red aircraft at the bottom. PilotAware is able to provide the aircraft's registration, relative altitude and ground speed. The small yellow arrow next to the altitude indicates that the aircraft is descending. EasyVFR believes that this aircraft is a potential conflict (perhaps because it is descending towards my altitude), hence it is depicted as red. Aircraft that are not on a conflicting flight path are depicted as green. My aircraft is purple in this screenshot.
The following screenshot shows the same situation in Air Navigation Pro.
As you can see, it does not display the traffic in such a clear manner. The Mode C/S traffic appears as a small banner near my aircraft. Rather than indicate its relative altitude, it simply says FL2 which refers to it being 200ft above sea level. It also states that the ground speed is zero (0KT) on all Mode C/S alerts, though this is not true. I think this is misleading as it implies that the aircraft may be stationary on the ground.
The other aircraft is depicted as a black arrow and the height above seal level along with the ground speed is displayed. It also displays the registration, though it is cut off as the box is very small. I find these hard to read in flight as it is so small and there is no way to make it any bigger. If the aircraft was not a potential conflict, it would be greyed out.
I should stress that this is a software issue with Air Navigation Pro and it does not reflect on the PilotAware product.
The unit is also capable of voice alerts via a 3.5mm auxillary cable which you can connect directly into your intercom system or headset. The system will then provide voice alerts for any aircraft that it detects, such as,"Traffic, 12 O'clock, 600 feet, 10 kilometres".
I can see the advantage of the voice alerts. It means that you can spend more time looking out of the window and less time at a screen. I started using the voice alerts last week, but I must admit that I didn't like it and I quickly removed the aux cable. Whilst sitting at the hold waiting for another aircraft to depart, the alerts were broadcasting constantly, advising me that the departing aircraft was at the same level, then 100ft, then 200ft and so on.
It is possible to use the voice alerts without connecting the system to a tablet if you wish.
I found PilotAware to be very reliable and in all honesty, it scares me how often it detects aircraft that I just cannot see no matter how hard I look. It certainly makes you wonder how many times you have been in close proximity to another aircraft without knowing prior to owning a PilotAware. Of course, it does not detect everything and it is not a replacement for a good lookout but that is not what it is intended to be. It is intended to provide enhanced situational awareness and it does that very well.
I am impressed by the company's push to provide better features. They are working with 360radar and their 800 receivers on a trial to provide position information for Mode S traffic. This will be a major step forward for the product.
I believe that there is also a trial in place to broadcast live weather from ground based stations in a radar-like format.
Furthermore, PilotAware have advised that the Rosetta will be able to connect to headsets via bluetooth to provide wireless audio alerts in the next software update.
The Rosetta is priced at £250.00 inc. VAT. In addition, you will need to renew your licence for £14.40 each year.
I love the PilotAware and wont fly without it. It does a lot for a modest price tag. I believe that most light aircraft pilots are using app based navigation nowadays and this is a fantastic addition to that. I understand that there are other systems out there such as the SkyEcho by uAvionix and I aim to do a comparison in the near future, but I don't believe that any of them have the same number of features as the PilotAware. I also get the impression from the company that they are genuinely proud of their product and are constantly looking to improve it. I'm sure that it is the most popular traffic awareness device in the UK and deservedly so.
Update: The Mode S traffic depiction as listed under Future Developments has now been implemented by PilotAware.
QuizAero Rating 5/5
Are you learning to fly? Click here to check out our highly acclaimed online ground school and practice exams. We cover aeroplanes, helicopters and microlights.