Miss Chief, Ladybird and Sleeping Beauty: Virgin Atlantic Explains How It Names Its Planes

Aug 25, 2019

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Just like cars, planes have registrations and the airlines are allowed to choose what they are. As self-confessed AvGeeks, we use registrations to track flights to find out all about the plane we’re flying, including geeky nuggets of information like its age, the routes it has just flown and is about to fly, and who really owns the aircraft.

In the UK, all aircraft registrations start with the letter ‘G’ followed by a dash and then letters e.g. G-TPGG. This configuration gives the airlines some creative license when it comes to deciding on the registrations (and names) for its aircraft.

Given that Virgin Atlantic has a reputation for coming up with fun and unique registrations and names, TPG UK reached out to find out all the what’s, whys and who’s when it comes to naming its planes. And just as the airline receives the first of its 12 A350-1000, all will have to be named.

We reached out to Chris Davey, Head of Aircraft Asset Management for Virgin Atlantic, who told us all about what goes into naming Virgin’s planes. (Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

What’s the idea behind naming of the planes?

Aircraft are named as ships are named and are considered female — “She flew well.” The aircraft traditionally have female names, appearing alongside our flying lady.

However, with our new male flying icons taking up residence on some of our A350s, we’ve been able to bend the rules a bit.

What’s the process?

Once we have a confirmed order of new aircraft, the internal brand team are given the task to start looking at both potential names and registrations. It’s a bit of a complex process and not as easy as just thinking of a list of fun names (though that definitely helps!). As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we always have a link between the plane registration and the name. It’s no good coming up with a fabulous name if there’s not an available registration that will work with it. All aircraft have a registration — planes, helicopters and hot air balloons — and once a registration has been used, it can never be used again, even if the aircraft is decommissioned.

All British registrations start with a G-, followed by four letters. All Virgin Atlantic aircraft have V as the first letter, so that leaves three letters to play with. Sometimes we can spell a word beginning with V — for example, G-VAST, Ladybird. But the majority of the time we just have three letters to make a connection to a name. Plus, the last two letters will be the aircraft’s unique call sign, so cannot be the same as the last two letters of any other registration in the Virgin Atlantic fleet. See, I told you it was complex!

We take inspiration from music, film, literature, food, cockney rhyming slang and more — especially if there’s a British link. Having our brand color of red involved in some way is a bonus, too. Sometimes we look back at previous names of retired aircraft that are just too good not to use again. Usually, a long list is created and then we check if there are appropriate registrations to match, then narrow it down to the ones that stand out most. It can be quite tough as you become quite attached to some names, but there’s always next time.

Is there a set of guidelines to follow when coming up with a name?

Each name must be on brand and stand the test of time — many of these aircraft will be flying for 10, 20 or more years, so we have to think about classic names that will be enjoyed by people in the future as well as now. So as tempting as it was to suggest Planey McPlaneface, it simply wouldn’t have aged well.

(Photo by Daniel Ross / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross / The Points Guy)

Is there a vote?

No, but the chosen names are approved by the brand team and then upward to the SVP of Marketing and then the CEO. We keep a backup list of ideas, too.

Does a governing body have to approve?

The UK CAA has to approve the registration but not the name. Obviously, it should not be offensive.

We do have G-VNAP and G-VMAP both can be called “Alpha Papa.” However one is an A340-600 and the other is a 787-9.

The Registration and the names are checked against the Urban Dictionary — G-VOMG would not make it because of ‘OMG’.

Are employees allowed to give suggestions?

Of course. We have lots of employee engagement on Workplace, our internal social network, and if people make suggestions, we do listen. The best example of this is our third A350 that will be coming into service and has the registration G-VPRD. This is the name of the Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays LGBTQ+ network and was suggested as a potential new aircraft registration. We were very lucky that it was available and snapped it up immediately. It’s been a great way to show support for our LGBTQ+ colleagues. Some fun names to go with it were suggested, too — including my personal favorite, Miss Vanjie.

Have the names of each of the new A350s been decided yet?

Yes, actually we started working on them back in 2017. It’s been a long time and we’re so excited for everyone to finally see them.

What’s your personal favorite?

G-VWKD — Miss Behavin’.

Which do you think is the funniest?

G-VGIN — Scarlet Lady, a 747-200.

Is there one that has ever been considered controversial?

Possibly “G-VPUF — High as a Kite” a 747-200.

Do the planes ever get renamed?

Yes, this has happened a few times. Recently, we brought Sleeping Beauty (G-VNAP) back into service, with a new livery to honor our crew. She was renamed Sleeping Beauty Rejuvenated. G-VROS, English Rose, was renamed Forever Young this year as a tribute and memorial to all the Virgin Atlantic family we have lost too soon.

Has Virgin Atlantic ever run a competition to name a plane?

We did auction the right to name a plane once. It went on eBay for Virgin Unite. The winning bid was $12,265 (£10,000) but it was named after the bidder’s newly born daughter Emmeline Heaney. The name was only meant to be on the aircraft for a year but it stuck around for much longer.

Featured Image Courtesy James Oates/Speedbirduk

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