After spending countless hours configuring software and getting a VATSIM password, many new pilots get as far as the "Enter Your Callsign Here" box in the login window and freeze. This tutorial is intended to show the VATSIM pilot what callsign he or she should use.
Understanding the Callsign
There are two main types of callsigns found on the VATSIM network. The first and most common are Airline callsigns. Many of you have probably listened to LiveATC.net and heard ATC (Air Traffic Control) address airlines as "Jazz", "Cactus", or even "Speedbird". These are all airline callsigns. The three listed here are slightly harder to connect to the airline they refer to, but others such as "American", "US Air", or "Northwest" are more obvious. Every airline has a 3-letter code that is placed at the beginning of their callsigns which tells the controller what callsign to use for the aircraft.
The other type of callsign is the type used by General Aviation. Every aircraft sold is issued a unique registration consisting of anywhere from 1 to 7 letters and/or numbers. This registration is painted on the side of the aircraft and remains with the aircraft throughout its whole life unless changed by new registration.
Choosing A Callsign
The beauty of VATSIM is that you can fly with any callsign you like as long as it is not potentially offensive to other members. Offensive callsigns would include those related to major events in history involving loss of life or otherwise politically sensitive acts.
If you want to fly a General Aviation aircraft, feel free to put anything as your callsign, as long as it is not vulgar or obscene. For example, many pilots choose to use their name, date of birth, initials, or any other personal memory, but for realism purposes, a general aviation callsign should be similar to those in normal use. One factor to consider is that you cannot have the same callsign as someone else while they are on the network. For example, if you are trying to connect to the network as N63019, but John Doe is already on the network and connected as N63019, you will get an error message and must choose a different callsign. However, once John Doe has finished his flight and logged off the network you can go ahead and log on as N63019. Additionally, don't feel that you are obligated to use just one callsign. Log on as one callsign and complete a flight, then log on as a completely different callsign for the next flight! Just remember that you will have to be alert to ATC trying to contact you via that callsign, so it sometimes helps to stick with one that you become familiar with, at least at first.
Pronouncing Airline Callsigns
You may now be wondering, "How do controllers know what to call the different aircraft?" When an airline becomes officially recognized, it is given a unique 3-letter code that represents that airline. A phonetic callsign is then created for the airline. Controllers can very simply find what to call a given airline by looking Here∞ in the United States. Another source for this information is at AirlineCodes.co.uk∞. These pages have complete lists of each and every airline code that could transit a controller's airspace. Below are some of the most popular callsigns used on VATSIM:
|CODE||AIRLINE NAME||PHONETIC (SPOKEN) CALLSIGN|
|USA||US Airways||US Air|
|JBU||Jet Blue Airways||Jet Blue|
In this image, courtesy of FlightAware you can see how the various callsigns look in action. Several of those in the table above are present, including Delta, American, US Air, and JetBlue. What other airlines can you identify? There is also one general aviation aircraft near the bottom left: N5626Y.
Airlines use the flight number behind their Airline Code in the callsign, however you can use any number you wish to. So if you were flying US Airways flight 3846, your callsign would be USA3846. It is always fun to look up the real flight number on the airlines website, then fly with that callsign. Even more fun is departing at the same time as the real-world version of your flight to see who arrives first.
General Aviation Callsigns in the United States
Every aircraft, including the large jets of the airlines, has a unique Identification number painted on its fuselage. Every aircraft registered in the United States will have a registration code that begins with the letter "N" or "November". When communicating with ATC, this "N" is routinely omitted, thus an aircraft registered as N63019 would be referred to simply as "63019". Also, at the beginning of a General Aviation callsign, the letter N ("November") is replaced by the aircraft type or manufacturer. For example, if N63019 was a Cessna 172, he would be called "Cessna 63019". If N497DW was a Learjet 45, he would be called "Learjet 497DW". If you are unsure of what to say as your aircraft type, just simply ask ATC and they will tell you what to say.
General Aviation Callsigns in Europe
European Callsigns are vastly different than those in the United States. The first and/or second letter of the callsign indicates the country in which the aircraft is registered. See the chart below for some of the countries' prefixes. A complete list of prefixes for different countries can be found Here∞ or Here∞.
Note that letters, not numbers, are used in these examples. Most European countries use only letters in their General Aviation callsigns. Also, please do not use the "-" in the callsign when signing on to VATSIM. For example, if you wanted to fly as G-ABCD, you would sign in as GABCD.
General Aviation Callsigns in Australia
Australian registrations: VH-XXX where the "XXX" is any three alphabetic characters. ie, VH-ABC or VH-XYZ. All civil aircraft in Australia are registered in this manner.
Advanced Callsign Selection
For those who really do want to make it "as real as it gets", here are some more advanced ways of choosing a callsign. Every aircraft is assigned a registration code anywhere from 1 letter/number to 7 letters/numbers. To find real registration codes of aircraft registered in the United States, go to the FAA Aircraft Registry Database∞ and search for the registration of an aircraft the same type as yours. For realistic airline callsigns, simply find the flight number of the flight you wish to fly from the airline's website. Another good resource for this information is FlightAware.com∞, which shows the flight plan of every airline's flights (and many General Aviation plans too!). This site only provides information in the continental United States, however.
Note on Airline Callsigns
Airline Identification codes are ALWAYS 3 letters long, no shorter, no longer. Therefore, AA, AF, SW, NW, US, etc. DO NOT represent any airlines. Also, many new pilots log on with callsigns such as AMERICAN76, USAIR58, DELTA519, NORTHWEST24, etc. These are also not airline codes, and controllers can get very annoyed when a pilot has a callsign like this. Please Please PLEASE, if you want to fly for a certain airline but do not know the code, either look it up here or here, or log on and ask a controller what the correct code is. Most, if not all, controllers will appreciate you asking instead of using an improper callsign. A controller's job is made much easier when you file with the correct airline code.
(Exception: If the flight number part is 5 letters/numbers long, then the airline identification code is reduced to 2 letters. Air France has such callsigns for national flights : AF780UM, AF640QI, AF704YH and the like. There might be other companies using this scheme as well.)
Thank you for sticking with this throughout the entire article. You should find yourself thinking thoughts like "I-can-do-it" regarding callsigns!