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Flight AWE685 goes from Seattle to Philadelphia.

What exactly is that AWE685 identifier called? Every flight seems to have a unique name. I'm trying to learn more about flight data but it's tough when you don't know what terms to Google for more in-depth results.


Apologies if this question doesn't have a simple answer. I'm trying to learn about HTTP requests, so I'm teaching myself by pulling flight data from websites. Also, aviation data is new to me, so I don't realize how easy/difficult of a question this is.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi, Jay, Welcome to Aviation.SE! It fits our format better here if you ask only one question per "question." For more information, please see How to Ask and our help center. For now, I'm going to edit out the second question from this post so that it will fit our q/a format better. $\endgroup$ – reirab Aug 21 '15 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ This is the flight number. Related: What information on a specific flight can be retrieved? $\endgroup$ – mins Aug 21 '15 at 0:43
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These are colloquially called "flight numbers," though technically that term refers to just the numerical portion. Pretty much all travelers will use this name for them.

According to Wikipedia, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) officially uses the name "flight code" to refer to the whole portion. Unfortunately, the cited IATA document is behind a paywall, so I can't independently verify that.

In particular, the type of flight code in your example is of the ICAO variety and is also being used as the callsign for that particular flight for radio communication purposes. In the U.S., it is customary to use the airline's callsign plus the flight number as the callsign for a particular flight. Some other countries use the Aircraft Registration Code (commonly called the "tail number") of the aircraft instead of the airline flight number as the radio callsign. General aviation aircraft (which don't have airline flight numbers) will also normally use their tail number as their callsign.

When used as a call sign, a flight code will use the ICAO code for the airline. However, for purposes of airline reservation systems, it's common to see the flight number listed with the airline's (2-letter) IATA code rather than its (3-letter) ICAO code.

When a flight number is used as a callsign and is spoken on the radio, the airline's callsign will be spoken instead of the letters in the flight number. For example, your example of AWE685 will be pronounced "Cactus Six Eight Five" on the radio, since "Cactus" is the callsign for U.S. Airways.

For reference, the use of "AWE" and "Cactus" for U.S. Airways is a relic of when U.S. Airways merged with America West Airlines. They kept the name of U.S. Airways, but the ICAO code and callsign of America West (whose main hub was in Phoenix, AZ, hence the "cactus" callsign.)

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It is the 'call sign' of the aircraft.

In this particular instance, the first three characters 'AWE' refers to the airline call sign (telephony designator) of the airline, America West Airlines.

The next three number refers to the flight number, which is assigned by the airline, usually based on the route. Combined together, these two form an unique identifier and is used in radio transmissions.

The list of airline codes can be seen here. However, the flight number is decided by the airlines and their website might be a good place to start.

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These 3-letter codes and telephony/callsign names are officially documented by the FAA. The most recent version is https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Order/7340.2G_Chg_3_dtd_12-7-17.pdf but all updates are available through the Air Traffic Plans and Publications page.

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