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Strange and beautiful airline call signs from around the world

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If you ever listen to air traffic control, you’ll hear pilots of both commercial and cargo aircraft identify themselves by a combination of their call sign and flight number. In fact these days there’s more than one type of call sign, which we discussed in-depth in this article from 2018. Here, I’d like to focus on the original radio call signs used by airlines, as this is where sparks of creativity tend to spring forth.

You might hear a handful of straightforward and obvious call signs at any given time: “American 37 heavy.”  “Air Canada 112.” And so on. The name of the airline and its call sign is the same. But then comes a surprise: “Brickyard 3630.” That’s Republic Airlines, by the way. In their case, the call sign refers to the airline’s historical base at Indianapolis, where the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway is known as the Brickyard (because back in the day the race track was paved with bricks. See? Some of these call signs reach deep into history.)

Middle East Airlines call sign Cedar Jet
Middle East Airlines, aka MEA, carries the call sign Cedar Jet.

With that in mind I thought I’d put together a list of some of the better airline call signs out there. The airlines run the range from some of the biggest in the world to the very obscure. Some of the more unusual call signs make sense right off the bat, while others will leave you scratching your head. Next time you’re idly listening to air traffic control (we all do that for fun, right?) keep an ear out for these.

The big ones

Speedbird – British Airways. Any list of call signs needs to begin with Speedbird, which is probably the most famous ‘special’ call sign in the world. The name comes from an old logo of a bird, but whatever its origins, it is clearly the perfect call sign to evoke the speed and grace of an airliner cruising through the sky.

Springbok – South African Airways. The springbok decorated South African Airways planes since before it was even called that, back in its early days in the 1930s, and its first services to Europe in the 1940s were dubbed the “Springbok service.” Though the emblem has since disappeared, the call sign lives on.

South African Airways Springbok
A South African Airways A350. The springbok has long since disappeared from its livery.

Dynasty – China Airlines. The state-owned airline of Taiwan, China Airlines has long used the Dynasty call sign – which sounds oddly grandiose every time it comes over the radio, but at least it’s unique. Dynasty is also the name of its frequent flyer program and its lounges.

Shamrock – Aer Lingus. Another self-explanatory call sign that is no less evocative for its obviousness. The shamrock is the definitive symbol of Ireland as far as the outside world is concerned, and the green planes at Aer Lingus carry it perfectly.

Cedar Jet – Middle East Airlines. The cedar tree is a central symbol of Lebanon and even appears on its flag. The result for the Lebanese carrier is a refreshing call sign unlike any other.

Lesser-known examples

Air Guyane Express – Green Bird. Based in French Guiana, this airline has a green bird for a logo, so the call sign is obvious. Except that its planes now carry a livery with flowers. It’s nevertheless a nice way to refer to an airliner in flight.

Air Guyane Express green bird French Guiana ATR
An Air Guyane Express ATR. Planes used to feature two green birds on the tail.

Allied Air Cargo – Bambi. Why this Nigerian cargo airline has the call sign Bambi is a mystery, for now. Any readers have an inkling?

Air Cargo Carriers – Night Cargo. This call sign manages to be both descriptive and also seriously evocative. Cargo planes being loaded up under palm trees and rocketing off into the night to fly goods to exotic islands? It has a good ring. The airline has a hub at San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU).

Hahn Air – Rooster. The use of rooster is another mystery. Either way it’s very memorable. Hahn is a small German outfit running charters as well as a handful of scheduled flights. Pre-pandemic the airline used to run a Dusseldorf to Luxembourg scheduled flight on a Citation business jet – a rare chance to fly a private jet for relatively cheap. [EDITED TO ADD: Several commenters have pointed out that this is not a mystery at all, because “hahn” is the German word for “rooster.” Someone had a bit of fun when they came up with that one.]

Pegasus – Sun Turk. In a way this call sign makes plenty of sense. This is a Turkish airline and it flies to a number of sunny destinations via Istanbul. It’s also very weird.

Scoot – Scooter. This is another call sign that maybe makes some sense – take the name of the airline and make it roll off the tongue a little better. Never mind that a scooter is just about the antithesis of an airliner that flies through the sky. It wouldn’t have been my first choice.

Kalitta Air – Connie. It might sound odd at first, but not when you know that cargo operator Kalitta’s call sign comes from its founder Connie Kalitta, a former drag racer and a very interesting person in general.

Have we missed your favorite unusual call sign? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!


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126 Responses

  1. Rooster for Hahn air is no mystery as English “rooster” is “Hahn” in German.

    You could also consider “Rednose” which is the call sign for Norwegian Air UK, one of the airlines in the Norwegian group. The call sign obviously relates to their livery.

  2. AirAsia – Red Cap
    AirAsia X – Xanadu
    AirAsia Thailand – Thai Asia
    AirAsia Philippines – Cool Asia
    AirAsia Indonesia – Wagon Air
    Citilink (Garuda Subsidiary) – Supergreen
    Virgin Australia – Velocity

  3. Sunglass – former Thomas Cook Scandinavia has Viking – just like The Old scandinavian population

  4. Rooster / Hahn Air is not that much of a mystery: While the airport is named after the small town Hahn, Hahn is also the german word for an adult male chicken. And it’s not a british-english cock, since Hahn Airport is a former US Airbase.

  5. Hahn Air – Rooster. The use of rooster is another mystery.

    ”Hahn” is german for rooster, and also used as a last name.

  6. “Rooster” for Hahn Air is no mystery. Hahn is German for Rooster or Cockerel.

  7. Easy Jet Europe EJU – Alpine . with the Bexit Easy-Jet has to delocalize in Europe at Vienna Airport (Austria) in the middle of Alpes that’s maybe why they call them “Alpine”, need to be checked.

  8. Hahn in German translates to cock or rooster in English

  9. “Rooster” for Hahn Air is not a mystery! Hahn, besides being a location name, is the German word for…tadaaa, you guessed it: a rooster!

  10. In German, a rooster is hahn, so this call sign seems quite obvious to a German airline with that name. A separate question is why the airline was named that, but I have no idea for that. Greetings from Warsaw, PL.

  11. “Rooster” is no mystery – “Hahn” is just german for rooster 😉

  12. Hahn Air’s rooster is actually very direct if you know German: the German word for “rooster” is Hahn which is the name of the place where they are based (now famous for being “Frankfurt’s” second airport).

  13. The origin of Hahn Air’s callsign is actually not that mysterious: “Hahn” is the German word for “Rooster”

  14. in 1967 my first call sign in T28 pilots training at Randolph AFB is :

  15. Hahn is the German word for Rooster, so calling it a mystery is a bit of an exaggeration. How about Quality for ASL Belgium? Now that is surely a mystery. There are so many more you could have included which have historical resonance, so I‘ll just mention one: CSA Lines for Czech Airlines. Its forerunner Československé aerolinie – Czechoslovak Airlines, and before that Československé státní aerolinie – Czechoslovak State Airlines, was one of the world‘s first commercial airlines. It‘s a pity that there‘s not much of it left.

  16. You mentioned Connie, but you missed Dragster, Kalitta Charters 2’s call sign.

  17. What about “Waterski”? I believe to have heard that callsign in Canada…

  18. America West/US Airways had “Cactus” which is super unique

  19. The former America West Airline, now American, call sign was “Cactus” as it’s headquarters was in Tempe, AZ.

  20. @CanadianNorth is ”Empress,” a throwback to Canadian airlines, and CP Air before that. The Fairmont hotel (formerly a CP hotel) is named Empress in the same naming trend.

  21. @ Dashing Dinny
    Does that Canadian Nortn callsign have any links to Canadian Pacific Airlines?
    Canadian Pacific passenger ships were all called “Empress of …”

  22. This article seems to alternate between placing the airline name first and the call name first! It’s a bit confusing.

  23. When Tim Hortons a donut chain in Canada had a corporate jet it’s call sign was “Donut One”.

  24. “Clipper Juan Trippe” was Pan Am’s first 747. May he and his airline rest in peace.

  25. Here’s a few more;
    Waterski – TransStates Airlines callsign
    Red Wood – Virgin America callsign
    Cactus – US Airways callsign
    Giant – Atlas Air callsign
    Shamrock – Aer Lingus callsign

  26. Some aren’t with us anymore, but off the top of my head:

    Pan Am: Clipper
    Pinnacle: Flagship
    Trans-States: Waterski
    America West (US Air): Cactus
    AirTran: Citrus
    ValuJet: Critter
    Virgin America: Redwood
    PSA: BlueStreak
    Shuttle America: Mercury

  27. Hi there, what about JetairFly and there call sign (beauty)

  28. Not commercial, but of historic interest — the Boeing executive fleet recently got approval to use ‘Red Barn’ to pay homage to the company’s first production plant and headquarters from 1917-1965 in Seattle (an actual red barn). The building was moved to the museum of flight in the ’70s.

  29. Hahn Air maybe called Rooster as I think Hahn is the German for chicken?

  30. Miss the call sign “Cactus” used by Air West/US Airways.

  31. Studio was a call sign for a South African operator. Not sure if it was now defunct Velvet sky or for who .

  32. Gabriel
    Thank you for an interesting article.
    Those who commented, very informative, Bravo Zulu.
    As a South African living in Port Elizabeth, I do miss the iconic winged leaping Springbok.

  33. Mango (South African Airways low cost), callsign TULCA, The Ultimate Low Cost Airline.

  34. ValuJet was CRITTER, after the logo on its tail of a cartoon jet. It was bought by AirTran, which was Florida-based and thus CITRUS.

    Virgin America’s hub was SFO, near the REDWOOD trees that gave the airline its callsign.

    When US Airways and America West merged, the resulting airline was called US Airways but kept America West’s Arizona HQ, its IATA code, and its CACTUS callsign.

    Regionals PSA and Trans States use BLUE STREAK and WATERSKI, respectively.

  35. Someone mentioned Pan Am’s callsign “Clipper”, no doubt from the old days of sailing ships.
    Pan Am also gave their aircraft the most beautiful names:
    Clipper Raging Storm
    Clipper Ocean Rover
    Clipper Liberty Bell
    Clipper Queen of the Seas. (Lockerbie?)

  36. Thanks for all the comments! And clearly my lack of ability in German has been exposed. Because I knew Hahn is the name of a place in Germany, it didn’t ever occur to me that it might also mean rooster!

  37. There have been lots of other memorable callsigns in the US, though most have disappeared.
    Atlas Air (mostly cargo flying 747 & 767) is ‘Giant’, PSA (American Connection) uses ‘Bluestreak’
    A number of merged carriers had great call signs. America West (now part of American) was ‘Cactus’ based in PHX, Airtran (now part of Southwest) was ‘Citrus’ with HQ in Orlando, though most of the company started as Valujet, which had the callsign ‘Critter’ after their mascot. Trans States Airlines closed this year and had the callsign ‘Waterski’

  38. Hong Kong Airlines – Bauhinia. when i hear this over ATC, i always thought it was “Bohemia” (like the song)

  39. Georgian Airways (formerly Airzena) – Tamazi
    Georgian Airways is a private business owned by a guy called Tamaz Gaiashvili. “-i”-suffix indicates the nominative case in Georgian. ICAO code is TGZ. No narcist nowhere…

    Transaero – Transsoviet/TSO, used until it creased operation in late 2015, as such outlived the Soviet union by almost 24 years.

  40. AeroGal (now Avianca Ecuador) was short for Aerolíneas Galápagos. Originally the airline was meant to connect mainland Ecuador with the islands.
    Up until a couple of years the callsign was “AeroGal” but is now “Galapagos”.

    It would have been nice if the callsign was changed to “Piquero” (Blue Footed Booby in Spanish) which is an emblematic bird of the Galapagos Islands.

  41. One now forgotten because of corporate fusions. American West (and later on US Airways) – Cactus

  42. Jet2 uses ‘CHANNEX’ which comes from when they were founded in 1983 as Channel Express.

  43. Swedish charter company Novair. “Navigator”. There are probably some Portuguese companies that would like to pay tribute to Magellan but the Viking demonstrated some exceptional navigation skills.

  44. Hello. I hope you have a good day. The now closed Dubrovnik Airlines, based in Dubrovnik, Croatia had a call sign “Seagull”. Pretty catchy, as Dubrovnik is on the Adriatic coast.

  45. Also, Norwegian Air UK has a very interesting call sign ” Red Nose “

  46. The long defuct Santa Barbara based commuter called Apollo Airways went by Sonic. Not thar we were all that fast. Or reliable. I never heard how we got that callsign.

  47. “Alice” is the callsign for the Boeing E4B (747) out of Offutt AFB, Nebraska, when the “Looking Glass” Command and Control system for a nuclear war is activated with the President of the United States aboard or “next in line of succession.” The last time “Alice” flew with “Looking Glass” activated? September 11th, 2001. (a moment of levity)

  48. Kalitta Air, aka Kalittas Flying Service brought Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney to top fuel dragster fame. Connie Kaletta also owned a actual transport service.

  49. It was a sad day when “Cactus” was retired. Used to love hearing that call out – particularly flying into Arizona.

  50. ASA Airlines has “FRENCH POST”, a lot of interesting history behind that name and that airline

  51. Got to see Connie Kalitta ,”The Bounty Hunter” checking spark plugs on his dragster at the Winternationals in 1963. Iwas star struck teenager. Thanks for this memory of this legendary racer.

  52. The article didn’t actually miss this one, since it isn’t around any more, but after Speedbird my favorite was always Clipper (Pan Am), which carried all sorts of evocative images and history… I note the same comment below from Tom M, also a Pan Am fan

  53. Air 2000 was jetset , Jet 2 is channex from their previous name channel express, US Air was cactus Canadian Pacific was empress,, FLY Be was jersey from their origins jersey airlines, UPS was browntail there are many more which dont come to mind at the present

  54. Here in Peru is very common to hear on the radio:
    – Connie (Kalitta)
    – Yellow (DHL Express)
    – Yukon (Northern Air Cargo)

    Greetings from Lima, Peru

  55. Alrosa = MIRNY. Because the airline was founded in Mirny, Russia
    SmartWings = SKYTRAVEL
    Air Asia = RED CAP
    Cobham Aviation Australia = JETEX
    Parcelair = AIRPAK
    Pel-Air Aviation = PELFLIGHT
    ASL Airlines Ireland = CONTRACT

  56. TUI fly Nordic = BLUESCAN
    Airbus Transport International = BELUGA Because the aircraft of Airbus Transport International is the Airbus Beluga

  57. ValuJet Airlines – Critter – They had a cartoonish airplane for a logo and named it Critter. Whenever the corporate jet for the carrier was going somewhere it was Critter One.

  58. GoJet Airlines, that’s operating United’s new CRJ550 is using “Lindbergh” as their call sign to honor the early pioneer Charles Lindbergh.

  59. One of the weirdest and most uninspiring call signs must be from Aero Trans Cargo, a fly by night operation registered in Moldova and operating out of Sharjah in the UAE. Their inspired call-sign? “Mold Cargo”. Poor pilots.

  60. The old Canadian Pacific Airlines – Empress
    Tiger Airlines – GoCat
    PanAm – Clipper

  61. Connie Kalitta doesn’t drive any more, but he does own one of the leading 300mph Top Fuel Dragster/Funny Car teams in NHRA drag racing. And he still tunes one of the cars, the DHL-sponsored Top Fueler of Shawn Langdon, which has just won the world’s major annual race, the US Nationals, this past weekend.

  62. JSX = Big Stripe – They have a big red stripe running down the fuselage.

  63. I recall the former British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) having a stylised blue bird as a logo back in the 50s and 60s. I still have a couple of them as enamelled pin lapel badges. I believe that was the original Speedbird which was adopted across British Airways when British European Airways and BOAC merged. Thank you for a fascinating article.

  64. Lots of good one, my favorite was Canadian Pacific “Empress”.

  65. Then there was PALM (Air Florida), CACTUS (American West), APPLE (NY AIR)

  66. One from the UK. Titan (who are mainly a charter airline and who filled in for majors when they were short of aircraft plus did some flights to St Helena last month) go by the callsign ZAP.

  67. Regarding Waterski (Trans States), they were originally known as Resort Air, referring to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. Where you have lots of waterskiing! Thanks for a fun article, it must have been hard to limit its size!

  68. For me the call sign Clipper for Pan Am always brings back memories. My mother worked for them out ofLisbon in the late 30’s and met my father flying back from Africa in ‘38. One of the great airlines.

  69. Somebody already mentioned EMPRESS as a Canadian Airline but it was at one time Canadian Pacific Airlines callsign – used to hear in Europe in the 70’s
    BEELINE was the original callsign for B.E.A. when B.O.A.C. had the SPEEDBIRD callsign named after the little blue logo towards the nose area, and of course in B.O.A.C. days it was in Gold on the tail (check out the retro B.O.A.C. B744 painted last year). BEELINE was then take by Jersey European Airways which became BE (British European) and then finally FlyBe. They have since gone bust.
    So I guess this callsign is now up for grabs. Perhaps Brussels airlines might jump at the chance.
    SHUTTLE is also used by BA for its inter Britain services, which are just that, Shuttle services
    From an earlier time MAC for C-5’s and before that C-141’s (Military Airlift Command of USAF) and today the British Air Force uses for its transport aircraft the callsign ASCOT

  70. easyJet Switzerland => TopSwiss

    Air Alsie (Charter Airline from Danmark => Mermaid

    DHL => EuroTrans

    Former SkyWork Airlines => SkyFox

    Former G5 Executive => Batman

  71. Hahn in German…never mind.

    Wasn’t Connie the designation or at least the nickname of the Lockheed Constellation?

  72. The one I miss the most is “RED ROCK” for Las Vegas’ own National Airlines.

  73. Here are some call signs from Australia:

    Airnorth – Top End
    Royal Fling Doctor Service – Airdoctor
    Regional Express – Rex

  74. I always loved the old Ansett Cargo “Wombat” comes from the description “A rotund furry nocturnal animal that eats, roots, shoots and leaves” perhaps the innuendo may escape some on first glance.

  75. I’ve heard “Yellow… followed by flight number”. for the DHL. courier service (Deutsche Post DHL)

  76. Skysurfer- call sign for Maldivian National Flag carrier.

  77. Northeast Airline on the USA Eastern seaboard routes in the 1960’s was known as Bobbie Sox as a result of a fetching advertising campaign.

  78. I totally get Shamrock being Aer Lingus but why couldn’t it be Connie or am I remembering the ‘Not the Nine O’Cock News’ sketch too much… 😉

  79. Hi Gabriel I think you missed one of the older ones. Pan am call signs were known as clipper which comes from the clipper sailing ships that , if I am correct sailed the Atlantic!

  80. Didn`t know until 2009 that these call signs existed. Since THAT landing on the Hudson Cactus took on a new meaning.

  81. I have to say I love the Shamrock call sign. Straight away you know its Irelands National airline Aer Lingus.

  82. I‘m not absolutely sure if they also used it as a call sign. Anyway, Iron Maiden flew a Boeing 747 during their „Book of Souls“ tour and – quite appropriately – called it „Ed Force 1“.

  83. West Indian, for Caribbean Airlines based in Trinidad, West Indies. Legacy call sign inherited from its predecessor BWIA British West Indian Airways

  84. Finally one airline no one has mentioned yet. CAPPY for Capital cargo then out or Orlando flying a fleet of 727s..

  85. America West Airlines used the call sign Cactus. They merged with US Airlines who also used it & then got taken over by American Airlines.

  86. Nice i really enjoyed reading your blogs. Keep on posting. Thanks

  87. Flybe has the callsign Jersey a throwback to when the airline was called Jersey European

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