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  • Airport Codes, Airport Code Lookup

    Airports around the world are universally known by a unique three-letter code: the "Location Identifier" in aviation speak to uniquely identify individual airports. It's obviously much easier for pilots, controllers, travel agents, frequent flyers, computers and baggage handlers to say and write JFK than the John F Kennedy Airport, New York.
    Airports

    The continued growth of aviation worldwide meant that three letter combinations were insufficient to identify every airport. Eventually the system expanded, allowing numbers and four digit combinations; however, an airport served by scheduled route air-carrier or military airlift aircraft always has a code comprising of only three letter IATA code.

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    History of Airport Codes

    An airport code is a three letter designator for a commercial airport. These are the codes that airlines and pilots use to identify airports and are used in timetables, baggage tags, tickets, and advertisements. They are also used in air ticketing reservation systems. So it can be handy to know them when you are researching airfares online

    When the worlds first plane(s) took to the air in 1900's, there was no need for coding airports since an airport was literally any convenient field. However, the National Weather Service did tabulate data from cities around the country using a two letter identification system. Early airlines simply copied this system, but as airline service exploded in the 1930's, towns without weather station codes needed identification. A bureaucrat had a brainstorm, and the three-letter system was born, giving a seemingly endless 17,576 different combinations. To ease the transition, existing airports placed an X after the weather station code. The Phoenix tag became PHX.

    Many airport codes are simply the first three letters of the city name: IND is Indianapolis, BOS is Boston, DEN is Denver, SIN is Singapore, BOM Bombay, India SYD is Sydney, Australia. The first letter's of multiple cities served forms other codes: DFW for Dallas Fort Worth, SFO , and GSP for Greenville/Spartenburg, South Carolina. Sometimes the city name lends itself to one letter for each word, such as Salt Lake City (SLC), Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago (POS).

    Some codes are reseved for special purposes for example, the US Navy is using abbreviations starting with an "N". Canadians got the "Y" letter.

    This system of identifying airports caught on quickly and soon expanded to include all radio navigation aids used by pilots. This system of identifying airports caught on quickly and soon expanded to include all aviation radio navigation aids.

    All localizer identifiers are prefaced with an "I." Compass locators are assigned a two-letter identifier, normally using the localizer as a base. For example, at ABC the localizer might be IABC, the locator outer marker, AB, and the locator inner marker, BC.

    Some special interest groups successfully lobbied the government to obtain their own special letters.


    The system is not quite sufficient to cover all possible small airports. Perhaps as a sign of that, just over 300 codes are actually reused (i.e. used by more than one airport). This isn't a big problem when the airports are too not close (there's no chance of confusing 2 small regional airports on different continents).

    For traffic planning, a different system with 4 letters and digits is used. However, all of the world's biggest airports have three-letter airport codes and passengers only know those. 3 letter codes are assigned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

    • *** Some cities have several airports. In these cities the city itself gets a code and each airport also gets a code.
    • IATA airport code 3 letter city code | location identifier code | three letter codes for Airports.

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