When pilots and air traffic controllers communicate on the radio, the airline’s call sign is always used along with the flight number; ex: “Delta 135.” This helps assure our communications are clear.
Airlines began using call signs back in the 1930’s. Most carriers use their name as their call sign. Delta uses “Delta,” Singapore Airlines is “Singapore,” Southwest is “Southwest.” Occasionally, airlines will use some creativity when selecting a call sign. Here are AeroSavvy’s Top 10 Coolest Airline Call Signs…
After counting down the Top 10, be sure to check out 15 MORE Top 10 Coolest Call Signs! – More call sign goodness, served up hot and fresh!
10. Citrus – AirTran Airways
Orlando based AirTran Airways used the Florida orange grove inspired call sign of “Citrus.” Sadly, “Citrus” disappeared from the airwaves when Southwest Airlines finalized it’s acquisition of AirTran. “Citrus” is one of many fun call signs that has vanish as progress marches on.
9. Waterski – Trans States Airlines
US regional carrier, Trans States Airlines, operates as United Express and US Airways Express (soon to be American Eagle). The call sign “Waterski” originated in the early 1980’s. Trans States, then called Resort Air, flew passengers to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The area is noted for its recreation, especially water skiing.
8. Dynasty– China Airlines
You can’t miss the beautiful plum blossom than adorns the tails of China Airlines jets. The call sign of “Dynasty” stands out as well. China Airlines is the largest carrier in Taiwan, Republic of China. Based in Taipei, “Dynasty” flights can be seen and heard at over 90 cities around the world.
7. Jazz – Jazz Aviation LP
Several Canadian carriers have cool call signs; “Rouge”, “Flair”, and “Bearskin” are a few of my favorites. But none are quite as cool as the simple “Jazz” call sign. What’s cooler than cool Jazz? Jazz Aviation is Canada’s 2nd largest airline in terms of fleet size. They operate under the brand name of Air Canada Express and their aircraft are painted with the unmistakable Jazz logo.
6. Cactus – US Airways
The “Cactus” call sign originated with America West Airlines. Early in its history, the airline used the call sign “America West” but it often caused confusion with other airlines ending in “west” (Southwest, Northwest, Skywest). The FAA suggested that America West come up with a new call sign. The company held an employee contest to come up with the new name. Cactus was chosen.
America West was based in Phoenix, Arizona near the Sonoran Desert – home of the giant Saguaro cactus. In 2006, America West merged with US Airways. The Cactus call sign survived the merger and all US Airways flights were soon known as “Cactus” on the radio. Sadly, when US Airways merged with American Airlines, “Cactus” was retired.
Did you know?
UPS Airlines has used three different call signs since it became an airline in 1988.
- UPSCO (2 syllables: “Ups-Co”)
- U-P-S (current call sign. 3 syllables)
5. Redwood – Virgin America
Virgin America was based in the San Francisco bay area. The airline’s proximity to the famous California redwood forests and its red logo made “Redwood” the perfect call sign. Virgin America flew to over twenty destinations in the US and Mexico and earned a reputation for high quality service. On January 11, 2018, Virgin America began operating under the Alaska Airlines carrier operating certificate. So long, Redwood. We’ll miss hearing you on the frequencies!
4. Brickyard – Republic Airlines
Republic Airlines is an Indianapolis, Indiana based carrier that flies routes as American Eagle, US Airways Express, and United Express. The airline takes its call sign from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500 race. In 1909, when the speedway was paved with 3 million bricks, locals nicknamed it “The Brickyard.” With over 130 aircraft in service, the Republic Airlines “Brickyard” call sign can be heard coast to coast.
3. Dragon – Hong Kong Dragon Airlines (Dragonair)
Listen to aircraft frequencies in Asia, and you’re bound to hear a flying “Dragon.” Hong Kong based Dragonair began operations in 1985 and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific Airlines. Dragonair flies to 13 countries across Asia. Its all-Airbus fleet of A320s, A321s and A330s are adorned with a mythical red dragon from Chinese folklore.
2. Shamrock – Aer Lingus
Aer Lingus, the national flag carrier of Ireland, is known worldwide on the radio waves as “Shamrock.” Since the early 1960’s, the carrier has featured a three-leaf clover (shamrock) on the tails (and now winglets) of its aircraft. The Shamrock call sign is a perfect fit. Aer Lingus flies to over 80 destinations around the planet.
1. Speedbird – British Airways
Choosing the #1 coolest airline call sign was easy. In the 1940’s, BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) used the name of its logo, the “Speedbird,” as a call sign. In the early 1970’s, BOAC become British Airways through a merger and continued to use “Speedbird.” The call sign was especially appropriate when used by the supersonic Concorde. When “Speedbird-Concorde One” was heard on the radio, you knew something really special was in the air!
Critter – ValuJet
In the 1990’s, troubled low-cost carrier ValuJet Airlines had what was perhaps the cutest call sign. The airline used the name of it’s mascot, “Critter.” The happy little airplane was prominently displayed on ValuJet’s blue, gold and white airplanes. In 1997 ValuJet became AirTran Airways through a merger and the “Critter” call sign was retired.
Hawaii Five-O – Hawaiian Airlines
The Hawaiian Airlines daily non-stop from Honolulu to New York is flight 50. Pilots and controllers often ignore the official radio designation of “Hawaiian 50” and use the call sign “Hawaii Five-O” to pay homage to the classic (and reboot) TV police drama. It’s technically incorrect radio procedure, but how can they resist? Steve McGarrett would be proud. Book ’em, Danno!
Did I miss any?
There are plenty of other really cool airline call signs. What’s your favorite? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments!
If you’d like to learn more about aircraft communication, stream live aviation radio, or even build your own aircraft band radio, check out these AeroSavvy articles: