XM Weather was a revolutionary product when it was first introduced over a decade ago. For the first time, pilots had access to affordable in-flight weather information, often displayed on portable GPSs like the Garmin GPSMAP 396 and 496. As popular as XM Weather has become, though, the company (now called SiriusXM after a merger) has largely missed out on the iPad boom. That might be changing now, with the announcement today that the SiriusXM Aviation Receiver works with ForeFlight.
The new receiver, called the SXAR1, is a compact, wireless device that can be mounted on the glareshield or on a side window. It connects to an iPad via Bluetooth and delivers SiriusXM weather and GPS position to ForeFlight. This includes radar (base and composite reflectivity), lightning, storm tracks, METARs, TAFs, TFRs, PIREPs and more.
The advantage of SiriusXM weather over the FAA’s ADS-B weather (technically called FIS-B) is that it’s delivered by satellite. That means you can receive SiriusXM weather anywhere in the US – even on the ground. That makes it a good option for pilots who fly at lower levels, especially in the western US.
The high resolution radar is also available across the entire US, whereas ADS-B radar has a lower resolution national image. (Note that the resolution of SiriusXM radar is actually the same as the regional ADS-B picture, but it’s higher resolution than the national ADS-B picture.) METARs and TAFs are also sent as one complete package, with no regional filtering. The ability to see complete weather data farther out may be attractive for jet pilots who need to track weather from hundreds of miles away.
Canadian pilots will also want to take note of the SXAR1. Since ADS-B is an FAA project, FIS-B weather is not available in most of Canada. SiriusXM’s satellites, however, provide good coverage over most of southern Canada and Canadian radar is included in the subscription package. Combine this with ForeFlight’s comprehensive Canadian chart features and you have a full-featured electronic flight bag for flying north of the border.
In addition to the hardware, ForeFlight has also created their own subscription plan with SiriusXM. The SiriusXM Pilot for ForeFlight plan, at $39.99/month, is $15 less per month than the popular Pilot Preferred plan but still includes all the essentials. It’s the only plan that works with ForeFlight, but there aren’t many missing weather products so that’s not a real limitation.
One obvious question is: how does the SXAR1 compare to the Stratus ADS-B receiver? Both are wireless devices that deliver weather to ForeFlight, so on the surface they look quite similar. There are significant differences, though, so it depends on what features matter to you and what type of flying you do.
SiriusXM definitely wins for coverage area – you can turn it on and forget about altitudes or ground stations. It also receives more information, notably lightning, that can help weather decision-making. It does require a subscription (Stratus is subscription-free), but the low price of the SXAR1 still makes it a pretty good deal. For Canadian pilots, turbine pilots and anyone who is focused mostly on weather, the SXAR1 is a good pick.
For pilots who are interested in traffic and backup attitude, Stratus offers more capabilities: synthetic vision display in ForeFlight driven from the Stratus AHRS, dual band ADS-B traffic, ADS-B weather, GPS, pressure altitude sensor and flight data recorder. The weather has more limitations (see above) but there are no subscription fees for it. For pilots looking for a complete panel backup, Stratus is a good pick.
For the ultimate setup, you can even use both the SXAR1 and the Stratus together. Since one uses Bluetooth and one uses WiFi, your iPad can stay connected to both simultaneously. ForeFlight will show the weather from the SXAR1, and the GPS/traffic/attitude from the Stratus.
What’s not to like about the SXAR1? Our wish list would include the ability to connect to multiple iPads at a time (right now it’s limited to one) and the ability to receive XM Radio stations in the app (the hardware supports it, but not the app). We wouldn’t be surprised to see both of those features added at some point down the road.
In the end, the SXAR1 is a major enhancement for ForeFlight users looking for the best in-flight weather. It’s on sale for $499 right now, and there’s an additional $200 rebate through the end of the year. At a net price of just $299, it’s an excellent value. External SiriusXM and GPS antennas are available for remote mounting, as is a suction cup window mount.
Check out some screenshots in our gallery below.