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Appreciate the answer, especially the encouragement to go with multiple locations. Once I've charmed them a bit more at the new job I might even get away with sticking one on the ramp at the airport, who knows.
I didn't even think about ACARS, that's very useful. I sort of already have access to that sort of data but not directly - would be genuinely helpful to see that.
Have ordered a twin NooElec dongle bundle for now, and will go from there. Will update with my levels of success later in the week.
I've noticed you can get a HackRF One on eBay for about £140 now - are they weird bootleg versions, or just cheaper than I remember them being? Last time someone (you?) mentioned them on here they were about £250.
Basically, yes. All those sites like Flightradar, Flightaware, Planefinder etc work by pooling a load of receivers that pick up a planes transmission, which pumps out information such as their callsign, ID, location, altitude, and so on. It's functionally a secondary radar and and extremely cheap and effective way to monitor air traffic, both on the ground and in flight.