Updated Sept. 28, 2018

Call Signs

A traditional call sign consists of a written element, the company designator and a verbal element, the telephony designator. Eligible operators may request an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) company and telephony designator from the FAA. If the FAA determines company designator or telephony designator will benefit the National Airspace System, the Air Traffic Organization will issue company or telephony designator.

However, if a designator is misused or causing confusion, the FAA may cancel or revise the designator.

Types of Call Signs

The three types of designators are:

  • ICAO three-letter designator (3LD) and associated telephony
  • Special call sign designator (for disaster relief or special events)
  • Local call sign designator (local, and usually, visual flight rules (VFR) operations only)

ICAO 3LD and Associated Telephony Designator

The designator consists of a three-character flight number prefix and should be phonetically similar to corresponding telephony designator, for example: BIZ for telephony designator “Business.”

The 3LD is authorized by FAA, but registered and approved by ICAO. It consists of three letters and a flight number of one to four digits, for example “BIZ 1947.” 3LDs are only intended to be used for company business and should not be used by company pilots on personal flights. The 3LD and flight number are used instead of the aircraft registration number for ATC security and operational purposes and may be used for international communications.

The telephony designator, better known as a call sign, is used instead of phonetically pronouncing the 3LD.For example, BIZ 1947 would be articulated Business One Niner Four Seven, rather than Bravo India Zulu One Niner Four Seven. The call sign is assigned by the FAA at the same time as the ICAO 3LD. The call sign, together with a flight number, is the aircraft identification for radio voice communications with air traffic personnel.

The call sign should be phonetically pronounceable in English, and should consist of not more than two words and three syllables. It is also prohibited for a call sign to contain alpha or numeric characters or phrases. For example, “LeaderOne 1947” or “AlphaAir 1947” would not be permitted.

The telephony designator should be phonetically similar to corresponding company designator, for example: “Business” for company designator BIZ.

Special Telephony Designator

FAA may authorize a special telephony designator to indicate special handling by ATC. A commemorative flight or fly over, for example, may be issued a special designator.

Local Telephony Designator

A local telephony designator may only be used for communication with air traffic facilities signing a letter of agreement, but as of March 18, 2015, may be used for both VFR and IFR operations. Local designators cannot be used for filing flight plans. Flight schools or other operators, which operate predominantly in a limited airspace, are encouraged to investigate a local telephony identifier if it will improve communications and enhance safety. These designators are not accompanied by a three-letter designator, nor are they recognized by ICAO.

Applying for Call Signs

Operators should submit an inquiry to callsigns@faa.gov as they begin the application process for more information.

Before applying for either a company designator or telephony designator, the operator should insure its availability by checking JO 7340.2 – Contractions. In addition to JO 7340.2, the operator should consult additions to the JO. Keep in mind that a look back through previous revisions may be required. The regional point of contact will also have any changes that are not yet reflected in the latest version of the document.

In order to be eligible to apply for a call sign, a company must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Scheduled aircraft operators that operate seven or more non-seasonal international air operations each week, or at least 15 non-seasonal, domestic round-trip air operations each week
  • Chartered aircraft operators that may require use of the aeronautical fixed telecommunications network
  • Aircraft operators that require an ICAO three-letter designator for security purposes
  • Flight service companies and organizations that meet none of these requirements, but are deemed worthy of an ICAO three-letter designator

To apply, operators must submit via email the following criteria to either their regional contact or callsigns@faa.gov:

  • Name and address of operator
  • Name and address of the aircraft operator or organization
  • Type of aircraft operation or service provided
  • Type of ADS-B and transponder (flight deck programmable or non-programmable)
  • A copy of the operators published flight schedule (if applicable)
  • A statement of the 14 CFR part under which operations are to be conducted and, if applicable, acopy of the FAA operating certificate
  • Choices for company and telephony designator pairs in desired order. At least five options are recommended
  • Submissions must be signed
NOTE: ICAO charges applicants a significant fee to purchase a Personal Identification Number (PIN), which is used to register a proposed ICAO 3LD/telephony. Do not purchase a PIN until instructed to do so by FAA, otherwise applicants risk forfeiture of the PIN fee. Learn more from the ICAO website.

Once approved, the operator is notified and the official approval is emailed and subsequently a hard copy is mailed to the operator. Call signs will typically be issued approximately 45 days from the time the request is submitted and the call sign is tentatively approved.

All call signs are automatically blocked upon approval. Tracking requests must be submitted to 9-ATOR-HQ-IFOS@faa.gov.

Review NBAA’s ASDI blocking resource for information.

After a Call Sign is Received

Once the call sign is issued, company flight department personnel should be notified and briefed. A memo should be sent notifying all personnel of the change, including instructions on how and when to use the call sign and company designator.

Operators must include their new call sign in in the “remarks” section of flight plans for at least 60 days following the effective date of issue.

Additional Resources

FAA AC 120-26 Assignment of Aircraft Call Signs and Associated Telephonies

JO 7340.20: “Contractions”

Sample Application Letter

Sample Memo “Integration of Company and Telephony Designator” to Personnel