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Airport Codes

What are airport codes?

Airport codes are combinations of characters conventionally used in the airline industry to designate a certain airport facility in an abbreviated, unique way. Airport codes are one of the many location identifiers used in the aeronautical sector for the designation of airports, aerodromes, weather stations, navigation aids, and other related sites.

What are IATA airport codes?

IATA codes are combinations of only three letters from the Latin alphabet assigned by the IATA (International Air Transport Association) to designate commercial airports around the world. IATA codes are widely used in the airline industry for all kinds of operations related to flight preparation, reservations, ticketing, schedules, departures, arrivals, telecommunications, cargo documentation, baggage handling, etc.

Often, the letters of the codes bear some relation to the name of the nearest or biggest city served by the airport. Sometimes, the initials or a combination of letters taken from the name of the city are used. However, there is no single methodology the IATA uses to create the codes. The main idea is to assign unique codes, so the entity tries to ensure that no two codes are the same. If necessary, the code is assigned by taking letters from the name of the airport itself or using two letters that refer to the locality and a third associated with the country, or even using letters that bear no relation to the location.

Some examples of IATA codes for famous airports are:

JFK for the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, the United States.

ATL for the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the United States.

LHR for London Heathrow International Airport, the United Kingdom.

LAX for Los Angeles International Airport, the United States.

The IATA also provides codes for certain bus stations, trains, or ferry ports involved in intermodal air travel.

Currently, the three-letter IATA codes are the most widely used by commercial airports, serving almost 9,000 of them worldwide.

What other airport codes are there?

Although IATA codes are the most widely used on commercial flights around the world, there are other codes, both for the same locations and to designate other locations of lesser importance, such as airfields, runways, heliports, or military airports not covered by IATA.

Other airport codes may be:

  • The ICAO airport codes: these are made up of four letters. The first letter of the code is associated with the location’s region of the world. They are administered by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
  • FAA identifiers: these are generated by the United States Federal Aviation Administration. They use alphanumeric codes three to five characters long.

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