From AAA to ZZV – All About Airport Codes

If you fly regularly, you have probably noticed it on your ticket, itinerary or luggage tag – that often mysterious three letter code that indicates your destination airport.

Some codes are so familiar that they have almost replaced the airport name and are in common usage, such as SFO (San Francisco), LAX (Los Angeles) and JFK (John F Kennedy, New York) Others are more obscure – AAA is Anaa airport in French Polynesia; ZZV is the code for Zanesville in Ohio.

The codes are used not only by airport staff, but by pilots, controllers, travel agents and others who work in aviation and travel.

Many employees are expected to memorize hundreds of the more widely used airport codes.

Airport codes and what they mean

History of Airport Codes

Airline codes date back to the 1930s when it was realized that the rapid growth of air travel meant that a system had to be devised that would identify airstrips and airports.

It was calculated that by using just three letters, over 17,000 combinations were possible. Some locations already had a two letter identifier that had been allocated by the National Weather Service and in some cases, an X was simply added on – Portland, OR became PDX; Phoenix became PHX.

And where it all began, there is a tiny airstrip at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, the site of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, which has the code FFA – First Flight Airport.

Stories Behind the Codes

Many larger airports have codes that are simply the first three letters of their name – MIA (Miami), BOS (Boston) and FRA (Frankfurt).

However, some airport codes are seemingly obscure unless you know the story behind them; Orlando’s code of MCO is derived from the name of the Air Force base that was once located there – McCoy Field. Chicago O’Hare has the code of ORD because an aircraft factory known as Orchard Place originally stood there, later this became an airport and the name was changed to Orchard Field.

The code allocated to Longview/Kilgore airport in Texas – GGG – seems meaningless, unless you know that the airport is in Gregg County.

Confusing Codes

However, no codes are as confusing as those for Canadian airports, almost all of which begin with the letter Y – Montreal is YUL, Toronto is YYZ and Vancouver is YVR.

There seems to be some confusion as to why this is, although the truth is probably that most of the more obvious codes had already been taken when the Canadians got around to allocating codes. They also decided that it would be useful to give their codes some consistency and as the letter Y was available, they grabbed it.

Likewise, the US Navy decided that the letter N would belong to them – the training base in Pensacola, FL is NPA; the facility in Miramar, CA is NKX.

Funny Airport Codes

Whereas some three letter codes are obvious and some are obscure, some are perhaps funny, even embarrassing.

If your luggage is tagged with the code BUM, your destination is Butler, MO; if you are going to FAT, you are heading to Fresno, CA; and if you are visiting BOB, you are on your way to Motu Mute airport in the South Pacific.

Perhaps no airport is as unfortunate as Sioux City, IA that is cursed with the code of SUX. The city has tried to change it over the years to such things as GYO and SGV, but eventually gave up and made the best of it. The airport’s slogan since 2007 – FLY SUX.

All About Airport Codes

What is the 3 letter airport code?

The airport code, also known as the ICAO airport code, is a four-character string that is used to identify all airports worldwide. Every airport in the world has a three-letter IATA code, which is used to identify the airport. This code helps us to easily communicate with each other.

Why do airports have 3 letter codes?

The three-letter code is first created to prevent unauthorized use by any other entity. It can be assigned based on the city or airport’s name, or some other relevant identifier. The ICAO code has four letters. These are the regions that are located within the country, and the first two are for the country and region.

What is Code Red airport?

The code red is used for delays and closures due to lightning strikes. It was banned on the radio because some customers thought it was related to terrorism. The IATA’s Location Identifier is a unique three-letter code that’s used in aviation and logistics.

Which is No 1 airport in world?

Hamad International Airport has been named the world’s best airport for 2021. Airport codes are very useful. They are always 3 letters and have no ambiguity.

Why is it called YYZ?

The code for the station was YZ, which is where the letter YYZ now stands. The prefix K is usually reserved for the contiguous US.

What is aircraft ICAO code?

The aircraft type designator is a type code that identifies every aircraft type that may appear in flight planning. It is also used to identify sub-types. The codes are generated by the letters chosen from the city’s name and are usually preceded with three digits.

What code do pilots use?

Many pilots have the same words and some have the same pronunciations. They also use the same numbers for different words and phrases. “Cleared for instrument landing” (ILS).