How KLM Chooses Names For Its Aircraft

Some airlines have a practice of naming their aircraft something a little more memorable than a mere combination of letters and numbers. Some choose to honor distinguished persons or come up with catchy phrases, while others draw inspiration from all kinds of places across the world. If you have ever wondered how Dutch flag carrier KLM comes up with the names for its planes, this is your chance to find out.

KLM Boeing 787-9
KLM has a special naming practice for its aircraft models – this is a Boeing 787-9 named ‘Mimosa’. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

All aircraft have registrations, also known as tail numbers. These are codes unique to a single plane required by international convention. It indicates the aircraft’s country of registration, much like the license plate of a car. However, some airlines choose to give their airplanes a more personal touch.

For instance, Virgin Atlantic has the likes of ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Miss Moneypenny’, and ‘Uptown Girl’. Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling has gotten clever with ‘Veni, Vidi, Vueling’ and ‘Vueling in Love’. Other airlines, such as Aeroflot and Norwegian, name theirs after important people in the arts or science.

Dutch flag-carrier KLM is another airline with the practice of naming its planes. And, as noted by keen aviation enthusiast and podcaster Jason Rabinowitz, it goes about doing so according to a particular scheme. If you’ve ever boarded a blue-and-white liveried ‘Red-crested Pochard’, ‘Macchu Picchu’, ‘Piazza del Duomo’, ‘Snowdrop’, or ‘Gunung Mulu’ – this is the reason.

Eagles, hawks, and albatrosses

As stated in the post above, KLM does indeed name its Boeing 737s after birds. Since the airline has 48 in its fleet (12 are 737-700s, 31 are -800s, and five are -900s), there is quite a vast array of ornithological breeds represented. There are more instantly recognizable feathered species, such as ‘Owl’, ‘Nigthingale’, ‘Swallow’, ‘Crane’, ‘Partridge’, ‘Hawk’, ‘Eagle’ and ‘Goose’.

However, you may need to be more of an avid birder to immediately be able to describe a ‘Golden oriole’, ‘Ivory gull’, ‘Great shearwater’, or an ‘Amsterdam albatross’. The latter, we might add, is a critically endangered species that breeds only on Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean, not a giant bird swooping over the canals of the Dutch capital.

KLM Boeing 737s Amsterdam
KLM’s 737s are all named after birds. Photo: Jake Hardiman | Simple Flying

The Triple Sevens

KLM’s 15 Boeing 777-200s are – mostly – named after world heritage sites. However, the oldest 777-200 in the carrier’s fleet, delivered in October 2003, is named after Dutch aviation pioneer Albert Plesman, who was also the first administrator and later director of KLM.

Meanwhile, from then onwards, the jets received names such as ‘Borobodur’ – the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world, located on Java in Indonesia. Represented are also is also the Mayan temple ‘Chichen-Itza’, India’s heritage the ‘Darjeeling railway’, Finland’s ‘Old Rauma’ harbor, and Tanzania’s ‘Mount Kilimanjaro’, among others.

The 16 Boeing 777-300s in the carrier’s fleet are named after national parks from all over the world. For instance, from North America, there is Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Central and South America are represented by, among others, Cocos Island and Tierra del Fuego.

From Asia, there is Yakushima and Kaziranga, and from Africa, Amboseli National Park. Europe also has a couple of examples with KLM’s native Park De Hoge Veluwe and Sweden’s Fulufjället.

KLM 777-300ER
KLM’s 777s derive their names from heritage sites and national parks. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Dreamliner florals

Rounding out the Boeing portion of the airline’s fleet are the floral Dreamliners. KLM’s first 787-9, delivered in November 2015, is not named ‘Oranje Blossom’, as one might have imagined. That name was given instead to the first 787-10, which arrived in June 2019 and wears the special KLM 100 years colors.

The first Dreamliner to arrive in Amsterdam was instead called ‘Sunflower’. Since then, there has been a bouquet of ‘Dahlia’, ‘Morning star’, ‘Bluebell’, ‘Jasmine’ and ‘Lavender, to name a few.

Airbus piazzas

That leaves us the Airbus A330s. Eleven in total, they are named after famous squares around the world, along with their location. The first A330 to arrive in August 2005 is named after Dam square in Amsterdam. Represented are also Piazza Navona in Rome, Parliament Square in Edinburgh, Plaza de la Cathedral in Havana, and Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, to name a few.

KLM A330 Getty
The airline’s Airbus A330s after named after famous squares, such as Federation Square in Melbourne. Photo: Getty Images

And, of course, it would be amiss of us not to give an honorary mention to the airline’s retired Boeing 747s. Apart from cities such as Bangkok, Karachi, Johannesburg, and Calgary for the 747-400s, there were also 747-300 cargo carriers known as ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ and Sir Geoffrey deHavilland, as well as 747-200s named after rivers such as the Nile, Ganges, and Missouri.

Which is your favorite aircraft name and why? Leave a comment and let us know.