Airlines sometimes choose a very unusual call sign for their pilots to use when communicating with Air Traffic Control. This is a unique word or couple of words to let other pilots know which airline to look out for in the sky.
Passengers would never really know about this as it is not something relevant to them. When looking into it though, some of these are very interesting.
A Standard Call Sign Is King
Most airlines use a pretty standard call sign. For example, American Airlines use the word American, Air Canada use Air Canada, Air India use Air India, Alaska Airlines use Alaska and Avianca use Avianca. You can see where this is going so I won’t go on.
These are so easy that anyone monitoring an air traffic control radio frequency would know who is who. What about when it comes to the more unusual ones?
Unusual Call Signs
Sometimes a call sign is related to another aspect of the airline or its branding. This is why you get something like Shamrock for Aer Lingus thanks it appearing on their aircraft tails or Speedbird for British Airways.
Similar to this, South African Airways use Springbok as their call sign which is the national animal of South Africa. Middle East Airlines based in Lebanon use Cedar Jet and the fact their tails have a cedar tree painted on them helps to explain that one.
Call Sign List
The call signs below are the most unusual as there seems to be no relation whatsoever between the airline name and the call sign. I can work out some but others are just baffling.
Africa World Airlines – Blackstar – a reader advises in the comments at the bottom, “The symbol of Ghana is a black star.”
Airnorth – Topend – flying at the top end of Australia.
Air Guyane Express – Green Bird.
Atlas Air – Giant.
BA CityFlyer – Flyer – makes sense!
BMI Regional – Midland – BMI used to stand for British Midland.
Canadian North – Empress – a reader advises, “Canadian Pacific used Empress, and tended to name their planes ‘Empress of [wherever].’ Canadian North began life as the subsidiary of CP’s successor Canadian Airlines and inherited the old CP callsign.”
China Airlines – Dynasty.
Comair – Commercial.
easyJet Switzerland – TopSwiss.
First Choice Airways – Jetset.
Flybe – Jersey – a reader advises, “Flybe was at one point Jersey European Airways.”
Hong Kong Airlines – Bauhinia – a reader advises, “The bauhinia is an orchid which is used as the emblem of Hong Kong.” There you go!
IndiGo Airlines – IFly.
A Few More
Kalitta Air – Connie – a reader advises, “Conrad ‘Connie’ Kalitta owns Kalitta Air”. Mystery solved!
Lufthansa CityLine – Hansaline – a reader advises, “Apart from it being a mix of Lufthansa and Cityline, the Hansaline was I think the name of a shipping line that emerged from the Hanseatic League, a powerful shipping and trading alliance in the North and Baltic seas. Lufthansa itself was named as such because it was a “Luft Hansa”, literally an Air Hansa, or a Hanseatic League of the air.”
JetStar Japan – Orange Liner – Jetstar’s colours are orange.
Neos – Moonflower.
Norwegian (Long Haul) – Norstar.
St Barth Commuter – Black Fin – no, they don’t have black fins, I checked!
Thomas Cook Airlines – Kestrel.
Titan Airways – Zap.
Trans States Airlines – Waterski – a reader advises, “From their original mission: bringing people to Lake of the Ozarks, MO – most likely to enjoy water-skiing and other aquatic activities!”
Virgin Australia – Velocity – the name of their Frequent Flyer programme.
Virgin America – Redwood – a reader in advises, “for the Redwood pine trees in Northern California where San Francisco is located.”
Quite a mixed bunch of call signs there. It would be interesting to know the background to some of them. Happily, as you can see, some of my generous readers have contributed to the story, which is wonderful.
Call Signs From The Past
Perhaps one of the most famous call signs is the one for Pan Am. This was Clipper and all their aircraft names also featured the word, so it was quite common. Continental Micronesia had Air Mike for theirs which was a short version of Micronesia and a common nickname for the airline.
Air Florida had both a really pretty livery and a call sign that related to their home in the word Palm. AirTran was Citrus, America West and later US Airways had Cactus and ValuJet had Critter. All different and all saying something about their airline.
It is interesting to see some variation from the standard call sign. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is neither here nor there but it does show a bit of creativity which is never a bad thing.
Do any of you know the reasons behind any of the call signs above? I’d love to hear about them if you know. Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.
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Featured image by Mark Brouwer and Air Florida image by Peter Duijnmayer.
Pan Am image via panam.org. All other images via Wikimedia Commons.