Cactus vs. American

I started with America West Airlines (AWA) in January 1987.

I never thought I’d admit this, but I will miss the “Cactus” call-sign!

AWA B737-200 Courtesy -
AWA B737-200
Courtesy –

Many years ago, we switched from the “America West” call-sign to Cactus. At the time, I thought this was one of the dumbest things I had ever heard. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. I was somewhat embarrassed. However, one does gets used to it. Always the rebel, I’ve grown very fond of the call-sign and will certainly miss it! Who knew. Oh well..

Why Cactus?

This came about due to several airlines having very similar FAA call-signs such as America West, Southwest and SkyWest Airlines, which would occasionally cause the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) and airline pilots some communication problems on the very busy ATC enroute radio frequencies. This was certainly a possibility throughout the southwestern USA where America West operated the vast majority of its flights in those days.

The adoption of the Cactus call-sign by AWA was their attempt at resolving the issue, which it did, the problem was solved!

Please see the AWA route map from 1991 below where one can see the concentration of flights throughout the southwest.

AWA Route Map - 1991 Courtesy -
AWA Route Map – 1991
Courtesy –

Come the day, (estimated to be on April 8th), I can almost guarantee there will be a few missed radio calls by the now former Cactus pilots simply due to human nature. After all these years of being primed to listen for our call sign, Cactus, it’ll be an adjustment to our senses. There will be some second guessing, who was that for?

AWA/US/AA Airbus A321
AWA/US/AA Airbus A321

I do feel sorry for our ATC partners in the sky as there will suddenly be an additional 1,000+ daily US Airways flights on their radar screens now answering to the “American” call sign. An adjustment for the both of us.

Glad I’m not flying that day. 

For additional information on the call-sign and the latest American / US Airways merger news, please click on this article.

Speaking of Cactus vs American, below is an Airbus A320 aircraft I recently flew into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport painted in the new American Airlines livery.


I took these two similar pictures (below) of Airbus A321 aircraft, which help to demonstrate the difference between the new exciting AA livery and the current US Airways livery.

US Airways Airbus A321 parked at PHX
US Airways Airbus A321 (AA livery) parked at PHX
US Airways Airbus A321
US Airways Airbus A321

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