Why Do Some Aircraft Have Names?

While not followed by every airline, some airlines decide to give each aircraft in their fleet a name. For example, Virgin Atlantic’s first Airbus A350 is called Red Velvet. However, if you turn to the British Airways fleet, only two aircraft have names, so why do only some aircraft have names? Simple Flying investigates!

Aircraft Names, Plane Names, Virgin Atlantic Names
Sometimes a ceremony is needed to reveal an aircraft’s name! Photo: KLM

On long road trips as a child, my mum made a game out of collecting the names of every Eddie Stobart lorry we drove past. However, on British Airways’ inaugural Airbus A350 flight to Madrid, my interest in naming vehicles was sparked again.

Looking out of the window at Heathrow I saw a BA Boeing 787 pull up alongside us with the name “Paul Jarvis” written on the side. To my knowledge, only BA’s Landor retro-jet had a name; City of Swansea. However, after some research, I discovered that the Paul Jarvis jet was named by the airline as a one-off to recognize the former curator of BA’s heritage collection.

Nautical origins

It would appear that the tradition of naming aircraft comes from aviation’s somewhat nautical origins. These days, aviation borrows a fair bit from the nautical industry that predates it. For example, both boat and aircraft have a port and starboard.

According to All Things Boat, back in the day ships were given names so that people could easily identify which boat was which. Nowadays, aircraft are given registration numbers to identify them. For example, British Airways’ first A350 is registered as G-XWBA.

Aircraft Names, Plane Names, Virgin Atlantic Names
Only one British Airways aircraft in the Chatham Dockyard livery has a name. Photo: John Taggart via Wikimedia

Tradition carried on

Some airlines will choose not to identify their aircraft beyond its tail number. Others, such as British Airways, will reserve naming an aircraft for celebrating a person or event. Meanwhile, naming aircraft can be taken incredibly seriously by other airlines.

Take Virgin Atlantic for example. They began to name their aircraft as Richard Branson was fed up with his first 747 being called Romeo Golf due to the last two letters of its registration G-VIRG. This aircraft ended up being named Maiden Voyager as it was the airline’s first aircraft.

Virgin Atlantic A350 icon
Virgin Atlantic’s first Airbus A350 is named Red Velvet. Photo: James Oates | @SpeedbirdUK

Virgin Atlantic actually has a team of staff who work to come up with individual names and registrations for each new aircraft. Each aircraft must start with G-V and, with one exception, no aircraft can share the same last two letters. The name also usually has something to do with the registration, although the link can sometimes be questionable.

Virgin’s first A350 is registered as G-VLUX. So what does that have to do with Red Velvet? According to the airline “For LUX read luxury and then think of something red and luxurious. Possibly chosen at about three in the afternoon, it’s named after the delicious treat that is red velvet cake.”

What is the best aircraft name that you’ve come across? Let us know in the comments!

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Danial Ismail

My favourite would have to be KLM’s B77W fleet. They are all named after some of the world’s major national parks like Jasper in Canada, Tijuca in Brazil and Gunung Mulu in Malaysia, to name but a few. They had inevitably introduced me to some of these national parks which I have included in my future travelling plans. All thanks to KLM! 🙂

Bongani Ndhlovu

In 2010 i went from Johannesburg to Madrid in a Iberia A340 named Beatrix Galindo. I think it’s good that airlines recognise national heroes in other sectors such as sports, arts & culture, etc., not only politicians.

Jon DeGeorge

Might want to also explain the use of the pronouns “she” and “her” to refer to aircraft.

Scanman

Always loved the Pan Am Clipper names. Also Virgin Atlantics play on words, such as “Maiden Toulouse”, hint, it wasn’t on a Boeing.