Aviation handheld radios


At Oshkosh this year, one of the things on my ‘to do’ list was to replace my aviation handheld radio. I had loaned my Vertex Standard (AKA Yaesu) Pilot VXA-210 handheld radio to a friend who subsequently passed away and couldn’t imagine a way to broach the subject about getting the radio back.

I have long been a fan of Yaesu ham radios and own quite a few of them. I’m the keeper of the FAQ for the Yaesu FT100 which is one of my most frequently visited web sites. I had my heart set on getting the VXA-700 aviation/ham handheld radio, something I’ve wanted for a long time because it could serve double duty in the cockpit. It’s a lot of fun to talk with fellow hams on the ground when one is flying around overhead. However, I was shocked to find that the ham radio (2-meter) functionality had been removed from the VXA-710, which is the follow-on radio to the VXA-700. Details about why it was removed were sketchy, but a few competitors said that the FCC had intervened and fined Yaesu for some reason. That left the choice up to the VXA300 since I wasn’t about to step down to a COMM-only radio when the radio I previously owned had also had a NAV feature.

I don’t know why Yaesu has decided to dilute its well-known brand name by using the name ‘Vertex Standard’ for its aviation and marine radios. They’d have been much better off sticking with something that can leverage their strength in the ham radio market.

Vertex Standard has 4 aviation hand held radios in the line-up that have no consistent naming convention. For example, they have the following aviation products:

  • Pro V aka VXA-150 (simple COMM-only radio)
  • Pro VI aka VXA-220 (a COMM-only radio with a bigger display)
  • Pilot III aka VXA-300 (NAV/COMM)
  • Spirit aka VXA-710 (NAV/COMM with business radio receive (?!) + FM receive)
  • The 4 radios look dissimilar enough that they might have been designed by 4 different companies. I don’t know what they are thinking at Yaesu, but giving products two different numbering schemes and using another brand name without the name recognition of Yaesu isn’t really helping them in any way.

    When it comes to aviation handhelds, it would be better to have a high end model and a low end model with similar user interfaces and accessories that are common. In addition, it would help if the people who staffed the Yaesu trade show booth actually knew something about the products. This has been an issue for the past several years. The guys are neither hams nor pilots and they don’t provide any staff to the larger vendor booths. I began feeling so dismayed by this inept marketing approach that I started looking more seriously at the competition, namely ICOM.

    ICOM made a big splash this year with a new panel mount radio called the A210 which, unfortunately, appears to cost about twice what their current A200 radio and doesn’t really do much more. ICOM had been the price/performance leader in aviation panel mount radios for many years with the A200. It costs approximately half of what the competition charges for a similar radio.

    The venerable A200

    I don’t know why the components that can be sold in a handheld radio need to cost 8 times as much when they are wrapped in a few more dollars of aluminum and have fewer features, but that is the case with nearly all panel-mount aviation radios.

    ICOM currently produces only 2 aviation handhelds, the A6 and A24, which look identical. The only difference is that the A24 has the NAV feature, and the A6 does not. In talking with their reps, they claimed that they designed the radios using focus groups with real pilots and found that the 3 most requested features from pilots were:

  • ease of use
  • easy-to-read display and keys
  • long battery life
  • Ease of use for this kind of radio is important since it’s a backup radio used infrequently and you don’t want to have to refer to its manual during an emergency like a complete electrical system failure. The backlit LCD display is easy to read as are its backlit keys.

    The battery takes up more than half the mass of the radio giving its battery life an advantage over attempting to make the radio as small as possible and compromising battery life in the process.

    After mulling this over for a while and considering the discounted show price and a $40 rebate, I decided to switch camps. I bought the A24 and so now I’m an ICOM owner again, something that I haven’t been for more than 25 years.

    Adaptive Interfaces