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30/12/2008 – Why Is A Cactus Pushing From The Gate? : Airport Radio Jargon
Late last week I received an e-mail from a reader of Flying With Fish trying to understand what they were listening to on United Airlines‘ Channel 9. Passengers who fly United Airlines can listen to the in-flight entertainment from gate-to-gate, and one of these options is “From The Flight Deck” on Channel 9. Channel 9 is the live radio conversations the flight deck crew is having with the tower, and anyone else on the radio.
I personally enjoy listening to Channel 9 when I fly United, but then again I am known to sit in front of my laptop and listen to live ‘tower’ feeds from certain airports. It is nice to know others enjoy United’s Channel 9 as well.
…anyway, the question I was asked reader John Butscher, a photo enthusiast who was on his way home from San Francisco, was — “Can you explain what it means when the radio chatter includes a cactus pushing into an alley and a redwood is holding short of bravo? Why would a plane be identified as heavy, aren’t all airliners heavy?”
What John was listening to as he ‘pushed’ from the gates at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was the radio calls signs, which are nicknames, for two airlines; a plane moving into the space between the gates; a plane being stopped on the taxi way and a wide-body jet.
Let me break this down a bit
“Cactus” is the radio call sign for US Airways flights. Cactus was formerly the call sign for America West, however when America West and US Airways merged, the unique radio call sign of “Cactus” was retained for both airlines
“Redwood” is the radio call sign for Virgin America.
The “Alley” is the space between terminal piers at airports. You find alleys less and less with modern airports, because alleyways are not very efficient. An aircraft stopped in an alley can interrupt the flow of traffic for all aircraft seeking to enter or exit the alley.
“Holding short of Bravo” is simply an aircraft being told to stay on the taxiway they are moving along, but stop before an intersection. Taxiways at airports are named for the ‘alpha-tag’ of the letter they represents, such as Alpha = A, Bravo = B, Charlie = C, Delta = D, Echo = E, Foxtrot = F , etc etc, etc.
“Heavy” is a common term at some airports, such as SFO, and a term you’ll never hear at other airports. A “Heavy” is ‘usually’ any wide-body jet such as a Boeing 767/777/747, Airbus A310/330/340/380 or McDonnell DC-10/MD-10/MD-11. The only narrow body jet you’re likely to hear identified as a “heavy” is the Boeing 757-300 (the very common 757-200 is generally not identified as a “heavy.”)
…so what was the conversation John was hearing in plain English?
A US Airways aircraft was being pushed back from the jetway into the shared-space between the terminal piers at Terminal 1. Somewhere else at the airport a Virgin America flight was taxing and asked to stop before it reached the intersection at taxiway Bravo, and somewhere else a wide-body jet was being spoken to by the tower.
The following area few of my favourite, somewhat odd, airline radio call signs
– Aer Lingus (Irish national carrier) – Shamrock
– Air One (Italian airline, soon to be merged with Alitalia) – Heron
– American Eagle (American Airlines regional carrier) – Eagle Flight
– AirTran – Citrus
– Atlas Air (global cargo carrier)- Giant
– BMI (UK based international airline) – Midland
– BMI Baby (BMI’s low cost carrier) – Baby
– British Airways (UK national flag carrier) – Speedbird
– China Airlines – Dynasty
– Freedom Airlines (US regional carrier you may fly without knowing it) – Liberty
– Kalitta Air (US based international cargo carrier) – Connie
– Mesa Airlines (US regional carrier you may fly without knowing it) – Air Shuttle
– Midwest Airlines (US airline based in the Midwest)- Midex
– Middle East Airlines/MEA (Lebanon based airline) – Cedar Jet
I hope that explains why a cactus was pushing from a gate…