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Why Do Iata Codes Exist?  
User currently offlineGlobalMoose From United States of America, joined Aug 2012, 25 posts, RR: 0
Posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 10 hours ago) and read 6744 times:

Searched the DB and couldn't find a good answer...

I'm used to using ICAO codes all the time in the 'office;' they work quite well for their established purpose as location identifiers.

My question is to the existence of IATA codes - why do we maintain two different set of codes when one (ICAO) works? Do the airlines save money by printing 3 numbers rather than 4 (ridiculous, I know, but every 1/1000th of a cent may help)? Was it because it is easier for the pax and ground agents to associate destinations with IATA instead of ICAO (LHR vs EGLL)?

Thanks,


When it absolutely positively has to be there ... at some point.
56 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
 
User currently offline26point2 From United States of America, joined Mar 2010, 786 posts, RR: 0
Reply 1, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 6739 times:

Good question.

ICAO codes certainly have some logic to them, at least to the initiated folks they do. Easy to tell any airport, or at least be able to make a logical guess, by its ICAO code once the convention is understood.

I can't answer your question but my guess is most IATA codes were established before ICAO codes. Not sure how long ICAO has been around...part of the United Nations I believe.

I still don't understand why KDEN is really DEN but referred to as DIA. But I digress.


User currently offlineglen From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 211 posts, RR: 2
Reply 2, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 6737 times:

Don't know if it is the main (and probably not the only) reason too keep IATA codes, but there is still a lot of software around (especially for ground handling) which runs with IATA codes only.
While keeping the codes costs practically nothing, getting rid of them would cost all airlines probably a lot of money.



"The horizon of many people is a circle with zero radius which they call their point of view." - Albert Einstein
User currently offlineGlobalMoose From United States of America, joined Aug 2012, 25 posts, RR: 0
Reply 3, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 6730 times:

Quoting 26point2 (Reply 1):

As an aside, I agree with you about Denver. When I lived in Colorado Springs it always annoyed me when the locals referred to the airport as DIA (Denver International Airport, I know) but an annoyance none the less when I knew the real name was KDEN or DEN  



When it absolutely positively has to be there ... at some point.
User currently offlinerfields5421 From United States of America, joined Jul 2007, 7345 posts, RR: 32
Reply 4, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 6727 times:

Quoting GlobalMoose (Thread starter):
Do the airlines save money by printing 3 numbers rather than 4 (ridiculous, I know, but every 1/1000th of a cent may help)?

At one time there was a significant additional costs for using 4 digit codes over smaller codes.

Computer memory, storage and programming capacity were incredibly expensive, and saving a digit or two saved a lot of money. I should also add that IATA codes date from before computers, when information about airline tickets and all the other financial details was sent by telex and telegraph, where every letter costs money.

IATA codes are primarily a key part of the financial system of billing, payments and tracking for the airline industry.

There was a plan to drop IATA two and three letter codes and move to three letter ICAO codes for airlines, and four letter ICAO codes for locations.

There were significant cost and technical issues related to the computer programming, the need to upgrade tens of thousands of terminals and such. I believe the plan is officially dead.

IATA is a group focused on the financial and business operational aspects of the airline business. Their codes fit their purposes. IATA has many other codes related to many other aspects of the business of running airlines.

ICAO is a group focused on the safe navigation and operation of aircraft, not necessarily airlines. ICAO does have a regional structure to their codes for airports, weather stations, international flight service station and area control centers.

Both ICAO and IATA codes have a historical bias/ background which is difficult to change.

[Edited 2013-03-19 16:48:37]

User currently offlinerfields5421 From United States of America, joined Jul 2007, 7345 posts, RR: 32
Reply 5, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 6719 times:

Quoting 26point2 (Reply 1):
my guess is most IATA codes were established before ICAO codes.

IATA was established in Havana in April 1945, but is a descendant of an airline organization dating back to 1919.

IATA is a trade group run by a group of airlines to coordinate their business operations.

ICAO was established as a UN agency in 1947, but is a descendant of the International Commission for Air Navigation which dates from 1903.


User currently offlinecjg225 From United States of America, joined Feb 2013, 611 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 6707 times:

Thanks for asking the question and thanks for the answers. Fascinating stuff. I had no idea that ICAO codes had that meaning to them.


Restoring Penn State's transportation heritage...
User currently offlinecjg225 From United States of America, joined Feb 2013, 611 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 6702 times:

Quoting GlobalMoose (Reply 3):

As an aside, I agree with you about Denver. When I lived in Colorado Springs it always annoyed me when the locals referred to the airport as DIA (Denver International Airport, I know) but an annoyance none the less when I knew the real name was KDEN or DEN

I can understand the locals to some extent.

Where I live, ABE is the airport. It used to be known as ABE for a long time, but the name was changed many years ago to Lehigh Valley International Airport and people started calling it LVIA, especially when signage in the area (like on the highways) was changed to reflect the name change. Many people still call it ABE, and its code is ABE, but LVIA has taken priority because, well, that's what it's name is as far as the public is concerned.

I would suspect that it is the same way in Denver. When the airport is being called "Denver International Airport," people are likely to shorten than to DIA out of convenience. Even if DEN is the IATA code, most people don't know IATA codes and will call the airport by it's name or the acronym of its name, even if that acronym is not the IATA code.

LAX is a good example where the code and the colloquial (and official) names line up perfectly.



Restoring Penn State's transportation heritage...
User currently offlineViscount724 From Switzerland, joined Oct 2006, 24075 posts, RR: 22
Reply 8, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 6691 times:

Quoting GlobalMoose (Thread starter):
Do the airlines save money by printing 3 numbers rather than 4 (ridiculous, I know, but every 1/1000th of a cent may help)?
Quoting rfields5421 (Reply 4):
There was a plan to drop IATA two and three letter codes and move to three letter ICAO codes for airlines, and four letter ICAO codes for locations.

There were significant cost and technical issues related to the computer programming, the need to upgrade tens of thousands of terminals and such. I believe the plan is officially dead.

Yes, it was going to cost many millions to reprogram all the legacy systems, change tickets to add space for the additional characters in airline codes etc. The proposal was dropped at least 20 years ago if not longer.

However, if memory correct the proposal was only to change to the 3-letter airline codes since they were starting to run out of possible 2-letter combinations. I can't recall any proposal to change to the 4-character ICAO airport codes. The latter would have also been problematic as IATA also assigns 3-letter codes for cities/metropolitan areas (e.g. LON/NYC/PAR/YMQ/YTO etc.) and railway stations, bus stations etc., not just airports, and ICAO codes only exist for airports.

They resolved the shortage of 2-letter airline codes by introducing alpha-numeric codesl (e.g. B6, U2, 7F etc


User currently offlineMrCazzy From United States of America, joined Oct 2011, 35 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 8 hours ago) and read 6682 times:

Could it also be that originally the IATA codes were more helpful when there was less airports. When there were more airports being built they eventually ran out of codes then decided to put the extra letter.

User currently offlineStarlionblue From Greenland, joined Feb 2004, 16908 posts, RR: 67
Reply 10, posted (1 year 4 weeks 1 day 5 hours ago) and read 6610 times:

ICAO does use three letter codes for navaids. So you'll have KOCF for Ocala Airport and OCF for the VOR at Ocala Airport.

Quoting GlobalMoose (Reply 3):
As an aside, I agree with you about Denver. When I lived in Colorado Springs it always annoyed me when the locals referred to the airport as DIA (Denver International Airport, I know) but an annoyance none the less when I knew the real name was KDEN or DEN

MNL has the same "issue". People call it NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport). Another one in The Philippines is CRK, officially Clark International Airport. Since it was previously Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, people shorten it to DMIA.

Yeah that's not confusing for visitors. 
Quoting MrCazzy (Reply 9):

Could it also be that originally the IATA codes were more helpful when there was less airports. When there were more airports being built they eventually ran out of codes then decided to put the extra letter.

I don't think so. Even before WWII you'd probably struggle with only 3 letters for all the airports and airbases world wide.

Sounds like parallel evolution to me. And to be fair routing of aircraft and routing of pax can be "two separate worlds" quite easily.



"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots."
User currently offlineneutrino From Singapore, joined May 2012, 588 posts, RR: 0
Reply 11, posted (1 year 4 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 6456 times:

Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 10):
MNL has the same "issue". People call it NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport). Another one in The Philippines is CRK, officially Clark International Airport. Since it was previously Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, people shorten it to DMIA.


And Tiger Airways added to the confusion by calling it Manila(Clark) initially and Clark(Manila) now. I know of quite a few Singaporeans and Filipinos who ended up at the wrong airport - both on landing which caused some inconvenience and on intended boarding which caused some HELL).
Don't know about other nationalities but I suspect some had also suffered the same.



Potestatem obscuri lateris nescitis
User currently offlineANITIX87 From United States of America, joined Mar 2005, 3292 posts, RR: 13
Reply 12, posted (1 year 4 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 6440 times:
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Quoting cjg225 (Reply 7):
Where I live, ABE is the airport.

That's exactly the example I was going to use. I went to school at Lehigh University and when friends told me they were flying home from LVIA I always shook my head.

TIS



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User currently offlinecjg225 From United States of America, joined Feb 2013, 611 posts, RR: 0
Reply 13, posted (1 year 4 weeks 17 hours ago) and read 6432 times:

Quoting ANITIX87 (Reply 12):
That's exactly the example I was going to use. I went to school at Lehigh University and when friends told me they were flying home from LVIA I always shook my head.

But my point is that that's what it's called now. Most people don't know IATA or ICAO codes. If they did, my "FLY SUX" t-shirt would get a lot more laughs and smiles as opposed to, "how low-class"-kind of looks from people (of course, I do get asked somewhat frequently by the most random people if I'm from Sioux City!).

ABE hasn't been referred to as "ABE" around the valley with any real frequency in 12-15 years. I've lived here for 23 years; when I was a kid, it was always "ABE," but when the airport rebranded, from a marketing perspective, what people called it changed. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

To be honest, though, I heard some time ago (maybe 1-2 years ago) that they were re-rebranding back to ABE, but the big bushes at the entrance to the airport still are arranged to spell "LVIA" and all the road/highway signs still say "LVIA" or "Lehigh Valley International" on them. Why would your average valley resident call it "ABE" when the airport markets itself as "Lehigh Valley International"? (A cursory check of the airport website just now says to me that they primarily brand themselves as LVIA but have stepped-up the usage of the ABE moniker a lot in various things, including using ABE as the acronym for their value statement).

I'm sure it's the same elsewhere. If the Denver airport is marketing itself as Denver International Airport since at least 1994, why would your average citizen (who, remember, probably doesn't even know what an IATA code is) call it DEN?



Restoring Penn State's transportation heritage...
User currently offline26point2 From United States of America, joined Mar 2010, 786 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (1 year 4 weeks 15 hours ago) and read 6403 times:

Lehigh Valley International Airport sounds super fancy. What international destinations can I fly to?

User currently offlineViscount724 From Switzerland, joined Oct 2006, 24075 posts, RR: 22
Reply 15, posted (1 year 4 weeks 11 hours ago) and read 6313 times:

Quoting cjg225 (Reply 13):
I'm sure it's the same elsewhere. If the Denver airport is marketing itself as Denver International Airport since at least 1994, why would your average citizen (who, remember, probably doesn't even know what an IATA code is) call it DEN?

Edmonton International Airport (YEG) has long used the "EIA"acronym in marketing and press releases etc, not the IATA code YEG. The EIA acronym is prominent in their website, including the URL.
http://www.flyeia.com/

On the other hand, Vancouver makes extensive use of the YVR code.
http://www.yvr.ca/en/default.aspx


User currently offlinecjg225 From United States of America, joined Feb 2013, 611 posts, RR: 0
Reply 16, posted (1 year 4 weeks 11 hours ago) and read 6310 times:

Quoting 26point2 (Reply 14):
Lehigh Valley International Airport sounds super fancy. What international destinations can I fly to?

That's a question I've oft asked myself. lol



Restoring Penn State's transportation heritage...
User currently offlineStarlionblue From Greenland, joined Feb 2004, 16908 posts, RR: 67
Reply 17, posted (1 year 4 weeks 10 hours ago) and read 6279 times:

Quoting neutrino (Reply 11):
And Tiger Airways added to the confusion by calling it Manila(Clark) initially and Clark(Manila) now. I know of quite a few Singaporeans and Filipinos who ended up at the wrong airport - both on landing which caused some inconvenience and on intended boarding which caused some HELL).

Ah yes, Ryanair style. Calling Skavsta "Stockholm" and Bergamo "Milano". "It's almost Manila" if you squint. 



"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots."
User currently offlineKELPkid From United States of America, joined Nov 2005, 6264 posts, RR: 4
Reply 18, posted (1 year 4 weeks 9 hours ago) and read 6275 times:

Quoting 26point2 (Reply 14):
Lehigh Valley International Airport sounds super fancy. What international destinations can I fly to?

As you're probably aware, it most likely means that US Customs/Immigration is available at the field (and if international flights are a rarity there, then it is probably by prior notification, considering it isn't really close to the Canadian border   ).



Celebrating the birth of KELPkidJR on August 5, 2009 :-)
User currently offline26point2 From United States of America, joined Mar 2010, 786 posts, RR: 0
Reply 19, posted (1 year 4 weeks 9 hours ago) and read 6266 times:

Quoting KELPkid (Reply 18):

Yes. Thank you. I always find it amusing when airports try to market themseles by labeling the airport as "international" when there is no scheduled commercial international airline service. Sure, customs might be available but it's clearly an effort to make the airport seem more than it is.

We have one near where I live...FAT. They call it Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Another marketing effort in naming..there have been some scheduled international flights here but this airport is ridiculously far from Yosemite Valley. It might be the closest commercial airport but still a 2 hour drive. Some might argue that KFAT is close to the park boundary/gate but no one comes to FAT to drive to the nearby park gate....they want see Half Dome...and that takes 2 hours.

Now, to add to this thread the KFAT is sometimes referred to by local media as FYI (Fresno Yosemite Int'l). It's a joke.

Why not simply change the name of the city to FresYES! That would surely bring 'em in.

[Edited 2013-03-20 17:12:27]

User currently offlinecjg225 From United States of America, joined Feb 2013, 611 posts, RR: 0
Reply 20, posted (1 year 4 weeks 8 hours ago) and read 6247 times:

Quoting KELPkid (Reply 18):

As you're probably aware, it most likely means that US Customs/Immigration is available at the field (and if international flights are a rarity there, then it is probably by prior notification, considering it isn't really close to the Canadian border ).

I did not know that. Thanks for the information.



Restoring Penn State's transportation heritage...
User currently offlineMrBuzzcut From United States of America, joined Jan 2008, 49 posts, RR: 0
Reply 21, posted (1 year 4 weeks 7 hours ago) and read 6210 times:

I am somewhat partial to the 4-digit codes when looking at something like Flight Aware, the first character is pretty helpful because if you don't know the exact airport identifier, you can at least know what region of the world the flight is coming from.

There was one time I noticed a flight from HNL-MDY (flown direct by a twin turboprop) was listed on Flight Aware as PHNL-KMDW, which obviously wasn't happening...I'm not sure how all of that works but I imagine the flight plan was listed in the system as HNL-MDW instead of HNL-MDY.

The other 3 letter code story I have is when the mail handlers in HNL would confuse KWA (not where I was working) and AWK (where I was working). Mail flights were every two weeks (along with the regular cargo flight), it happened a couple of times that AWK mail ended up on KWA. Annoying, because it would take a couple of weeks for it to get back to HNL and then put on the right plane. Not that a P in front of either would have helped matters much.


User currently offlineblueflyer From United States of America, joined Jan 2006, 3698 posts, RR: 2
Reply 22, posted (1 year 4 weeks 3 hours ago) and read 6186 times:
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Quoting KELPkid (Reply 18):
As you're probably aware, it most likely means that US Customs/Immigration is available at the field

It is a landing rights airport, but the "international" moniker is usually a branding exercise. There is nothing stopping you from building a dirt strip in your backyard and calling it Grassland InterContinental Mega Hub.

There is a legal definition of "international airport" for customs and immigration purposes (basically an airport where international flights can land without prior permission) but it does not preclude any airport not on the list (found under § 122.13) from marketing themselves as international to the public.

[Edited 2013-03-20 22:42:43]


I've got $h*t to do
User currently offlineCitationJet From United States of America, joined Mar 2003, 2368 posts, RR: 3
Reply 23, posted (1 year 3 weeks 6 days 19 hours ago) and read 6105 times:

Quoting rfields5421 (Reply 4):
At one time there was a significant additional costs for using 4 digit codes over smaller codes.

I know that in the 1930s and 1940s, some airlines used 2 digit city codes. For instance Braniff used the 2 digit city codes llisted below. I am not sure if the 2 digit city codes were a formal or informal system, and I don't know the origin, however these codes were documented in Braniff's employee newletters. They may have been developed by Braniff for their own internal purposes.

In fact some of the 2 digit codes Braniff used are still a mystery as to what city they referred to: IQ, TW and WD, for instance.

AQ Amarillo, TX
FV Fort Worth, TX
LI Little Rock, AR
TS Tulsa, OK
BN Burlington, IA
GS Galveston, TX
LU Lubbock, TX
XC Mexico City
CD Colorado Springs, CO
HU Houston, TX
MO Moline, IL
XN Austin, TX
CG Chicago, IL
IC Wichita, KS
OL Oklahoma City, OK
WC Waco, TX
CR Corpus Christi, TX
JI Brownsville, TX
PC Ponca City, OK
WF Wichita Falls, TX
DL Dallas, TX
JR San Antonio, TX #2
PU Pueblo, CO
ZN San Antonio, TX #1
DV Denver, CO
KC Kansas City, MO
TO Topeka, KS



Boeing Flown: 701,702,703;717;720;721,722;731,732,733,734,735,737,738,739;741,742,743,744,747SP;752,753;762,763;772,773.
User currently offlinetimz From United States of America, joined Sep 1999, 6707 posts, RR: 7
Reply 24, posted (1 year 3 weeks 6 days 18 hours ago) and read 6083 times:

Two-letter airport (city?) codes lasted until around 1947. Dunno if all airlines used the same codes-- probably yes? They were probably used for interline ticketing?

25 Post contains links CitationJet : I just found a great video that describes the history behind airport codes in the US. http://sawyeraviation.com/what-is-the-history-of-your-airport-co
26 26point2 : CJ... Thanks for the video...fun. I especially liked the shout out to the Canadian band Rush and their YYZ morse code as the initial bass line. Check
27 Revelation : Not me. EGLL doesn't help me as much as LHR (and just to be picky, I'll point out they are letters, not digits...).
28 SKC : I'd even go as far as to say that DIA really started taking hold during its construction. Stapleton was the main airport in DEN for years, and was obv
29 jetmatt777 : Which is where LAX got it's X from. When the transition to 3-letter codes came in to play, they simply added an X to get LA to 3 letters. Or so I hav
30 timz : In the 1946 OAG IQ is Colorado Spr, TW is Topeka and WD is Wichita.
31 CitationJet : I have since learned that PHX and PDX have an X for the same reason.
32 CitationJet : Great, thanks for solving that mystery. Can you verify the other cities I listed in Reply #23 are consistent with the 1946 OAG?
33 Cubsrule : I agree. EGLL gets me to it being a British airport, but if I didn't have it memorized, I don't know how I'd get to Heathrow. Same with EGKK or LGW o
34 timz : In the 1945-46 OAG Lubbock is LX (LU is Laredo), San Antonio Alamo Field 8 1/2 miles N of town is JR. Others as listed in reply 23.
35 RyanairGuru : Same in Greensboro, when I lived there I never got used to PTI - Piedmont Triad International. To me it was either Greensboro or GSO. All the highway
36 rfields5421 : They are tied into international radio identification codes, similar to how international aircraft registrations are done. That international system
37 Post contains images r2rho : Which has led to some really random airline codes over the past 15-20 years, with no connection whatsoever to the brand. U2 or 4U at least have found
38 rfields5421 : Some nations have a system to their ICAO codes which makes them very intuitive and simple for use. For example - any airport in Germany with EDD_ as
39 Polot : They are only intuitive and simple to use if you already know the system behind them though. I know RJAA is NRT, but I have absolutely no clue what a
40 Post contains images Starlionblue : Perhaps there is an advantage to a non-intuitive naming system: You don't take things for granted and really check where you are going. In operational
41 r2rho : But there you go, you named another two countries, another two systems. You'd have to learn the indvidual naming scheme for each country in order to
42 rfields5421 : While it might not always be intuitive, it is certainly more organized than the IATA code system. Most of us have a hundred or so major IATA codes mem
44 26point2 : Agreed, and this was my point earlier. If one knows what the regional letter prefix represents (R, E, L, M, S, etc) then the Country Code follows and
45 rfields5421 : And the big problem for both ICAO and IATA is that history prevents a real organized system. Many airports, and nations, insist upon using codes whic
46 timz : When did IATA start-- 1946ish? Whose current code existed before that?
47 timz : Turns out in 1944 lots of cities had three-letter codes that were the same as their present airport codes. Not that many in the US, put plenty elsewhe
48 rfields5421 : See the post earlier in the thread about some of the old two digit codes in the US, and how the follow up post about how airports such as LAX, PDX, P
49 Asturias : Great thread! I've always preferred the IATA codes, they're more 'human' to me and the ICAO codes more 'mechanical' and cold. In the end the ICAO code
50 Viscount724 : April 1945.
51 Aesma : French people don't use much abbreviations so nobody says "CDG", "ORY" or "NCE". For CDG nobody says Charles de Gaulle either as half the country is n
52 Post contains images Starlionblue : Well, ICAO codes are only used by professionals and enthusiasts, so this would not be a problem. For that matter, hardly anyone in the general public
53 exFWAOONW : You might want to look at prior modes of transportation, namely railroads for an explaination of some of those codes. Back when railroads were dispatc
54 rfields5421 : Also IATA has consolodated codes like LON NYC TYO
55 ARFFdude : SNA is another airport like that. The website, airport signage, my t-shirt and business cards (when I worked the for the airport authority there) all
56 Starlionblue : Marketing versus operational realities.
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