Reader Mail : “Why Don’t Airlines Use Their Name As A Callsign?”

I have written about airline call signs before … but not in almost three years … so this reader mail caught my attention.


Alberto Lopez, from Barcelona, Spain, writes “I was recently listening to air traffic control while waiting for a flight home from Chicago and noted many airlines do not use their name when calling the tower. Why don’t airlines use their name as a call sign, would that not make it easier?”


Alberto, airlines choose their callsigns for a variety of reasons, but in reality callsigns actually decrease confusion over the radio. Callsigns are easy to pronounce in English and chosen to not be confused with other airlines.   An example of this would be America West having selected “Cactus” as its callsign, as to not be confused with American Airlines, which has the callsign of “American.


As airlines fly all over the world, and must be recognizable in English, regardless of the native language of air traffic control, the flight crew or an airports tower, a call sign is usually simple, short and often associated with an airline in one way or another.  Some callsigns may not be obvious, others are very obvious.


US Airways’ callsign is now “Cactus,” assumed from America West when the two airlines merged. Cactus came from America West’s roots in desert, as the airline was founded in Phoenix, Arizona.


British Airways‘ callsign is famous, “Speedbird.” Many assume that Speedbird is a reference to the airline flying Concorde, however this is incorrect. Speedbird is a reference to the logo first used by British Airways’ predecessor airline Imperial Airways, in 1932. The logo was adopted by BOAC and it was BOAC who chose Speedbird as the airline callsign. When BOAC merged with BEA to create British Airways, two years prior to the introduction of Concorde, the airline retained the callsign of Speedbird.


Are Lingus’ callsign is blatantly obvious, “Shamrock,” a symbol not only synonymous with Ireland, but the logo emblazoned on the tail of every Aer Lingus airplane.


Regional airline Trans States Airlines has one of the most unique callsigns “Waterski.”  You may be thinking passengers don’t want to think of their flight skimming the water, but that is exactly where this callsign comes from.  Trans States Airlines was founded as Resort Air in 1982 flying floatplanes on the Lake of the Ozarks.  When the airline was renamed Trans States Airlines, and stopped flying floatplanes, its callsign remained.


V Australia has a fairly whimsical callsign, “Vee Oz.” The airline chose its call sign using the abbreviated nickname for Australia, and when you hear VeeOz with an Aussie accent calling the tower at LAX it is unmistakable.


Among Chinese airlines, China Airlines, Air China, China Xinhua Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern, callsigns can be confusing, especially with pilots that speak very poor English.   With this in mind, China Airlines, from Taiwan, Republic of China,  chose a very easy to distinguish callsign that is also believed to be a political jab at the Peoples Republic of China … “Dynasty“.


Well Alberto, I hope this clears up why airlines don’t always use their company name as their callsign.


Happy Flying!


  1. Can you publish a list of airline call signs, similar to the list of baggage allowances in the previous post?


  2. And, if the airline name is fits the bill, it will be used. Another example from OZ…the call sign of QANTAS is “Qantas”.

  3. I wasn’t old enough to see either airline myself, but I particularly like the old callsigns Empress (CP Air) and Clipper (Pan Am).

  4. When I tuned into the aeroplane frequency for Chile and Peru it certainly was not in English but Spanish! Plus they use metres not archaic Roman feet!

  5. I remember from the cockpit audio of the Value jet that augered into the swamp in Florida that their call sign was ‘Critter’.

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