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Goodbye, ‘Cactus.’ American and US Airways receive FAA single operating certificate

An American Airlines Boeing 757 taxis past a US Airways Airbus A-321 jet at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Thursday, March 26, 2015. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)
An American Airlines Boeing 757 taxis past a US Airways Airbus A-321 jet at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Thursday, March 26, 2015. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison) Star-Telegram

Cactus has signed off.

The call sign pilots use for US Airways flights when talking to air traffic controllers was retired this morning as American Airlines received its single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Even though the merger between American and US Airways closed in December 2013, the airlines had to operate separately until today. It usually takes 18 to 24 months to complete the paperwork necessary for the FAA to grant the operating certificate. The airlines needed to combine operating policies and procedures as part of the certification.

Over 700 employees worked on combining 300 manuals at the airlines with over 150,000 pages of policies, said Ed Bular, American’s senior vice president of single operating certificate. The process began when American and US Airways filed their 300-page transition plan with the FAA in October 2013.

Customers likely won’t notice a difference once the single operating certificate is issued as there will still be US Airways aircraft and flights schedules as American works to combine reservation systems and flight operations.

“Once we get to a single reservation system for our customers it will look and feel like a combined airline,” said American chief executive Doug Parker, referring to technology project that should be completed in the fall. “We can do that now because we have a single operating certificate.”

With the certificate, American will begin reporting statistics to the FAA such as on-time arrival figures as one carrier instead of two.

American executives noted the merger milestone with a small ceremony at headquarters. There were also over 135 cakes at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport along with dozens of cakes at other hub airports for employees to celebrate the single operating certificate presentation.

Pilots will now use the “American” call sign when talking to air traffic controllers. The last flight to use the “Cactus” call sign was a US Airways London Heathrow flight that arrived at Philadelphia this morning.

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