leftcoast8
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History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:01 am

Air New Zealand used to use TE, which came from Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), NZ's first airline and the state monopoly (domestic flights were spun off as the National Airways Corporation in 1947; their short code was NZ). TEAL and NAC were merged into Air New Zealand in 1978, but international ANZ flights continued to use the TE code until until deregulation of New Zealand's aviation industry in 1990, at which point ANZ was privatized and the NZ code was standardized.

EgyptAir's shortcode is MS, which came from its former name of Misrair.

Icelandair's code of FI comes from the predecessor of Flugfélag Íslands (literally "Iceland Airlines"), which merged with Loftleiðir in 1979 to create the modern day Icelandair.

ANA's code of NH comes from Nippon Helicopter and Aeroplane Transports Co., Ltd. which merged with Far East Airlines in 1958 to create the modern day ANA.

Alaska Airlines uses AS, from its predecessor Star Air Service which was renamed Alaska Star in 1942.

Finnair's EY comes from the predecessor Aero Osakeyhtiö (Aero O/Y), or just Aero Yhtiö for short. This is Finnish for "aero company", and Osakeyhtiö or O/Y is the name for a limited-liability company in Finland.

There are other that airline short codes that don't make immediate sense, like BR for Eva Air, UL for SriLankan, JT for Lion Air. What's the story behind idiosyncratic shortcodes that were not granted sequentially, at random, or "wherever there was space"? Some like DY/D8 for Norwegian are beyond guessing.
 
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Pudelhund
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:22 am

Aeroflot is SU presumably for Soviet Union.
 
hpff
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:27 am

Some of these may be lost to time. For instance, the internet says America West’s HP stood for Hawaiian Pacific Airlines, which apparently was a fraud, or also potentially “hub Phoenix.” But nothing confirmable.
 
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Dalavia
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:28 am

QF is for Qantas Flight (followed by the number), e.g. QF123
 
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TheFlyingDisk
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:45 am

Some of the IATA codes were repurposed from old airlines - case in point EVA Air's BR code was previously used by British Caledonian. Scoot's previous IATA code was used by American Trans Air, but then they assumed Tigerair's code.
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STLflyer
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:57 am

Always wondered where WN comes from, anyone know?
 
71Zulu
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:00 am

STLflyer wrote:
Always wondered where WN comes from, anyone know?
The reverse of Northwest?


Sent from my SM-N960U using Tapatalk
 
ushermittwoch
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:08 am

71Zulu wrote:
STLflyer wrote:
Always wondered where WN comes from, anyone know?
The reverse of Northwest?


Sent from my SM-N960U using Tapatalk



Wouldn't that be Southeast?
Where have all the tri-jets gone...
 
RJNUT
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:08 am

going out on a limb here with AZ deriving from its original name in 1947:

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N766UA
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:10 am

STLflyer wrote:
Always wondered where WN comes from, anyone know?


You’re being sarcastic, right? Isn’t WN like world-famously “We’re Nuts?” Airplane dork 101!
Last edited by N766UA on Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
 
71Zulu
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:10 am

ushermittwoch wrote:
71Zulu wrote:
STLflyer wrote:
Always wondered where WN comes from, anyone know?
The reverse of Northwest?


Sent from my SM-N960U using Tapatalk



Wouldn't that be Southeast?
Somebody posted once that WN was the reverse of NW as a play on Southwest and Northwest, have no idea if it's true.


Sent from my SM-N960U using Tapatalk
 
barefootchris
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:11 am

Regarding "WN":

The Southwest Blog share a couple of cute "theories" but ends with the conclusion that it's a mystery.

https://www.southwestaircommunity.com/t5/Blog/Flashback-Fridays-Why-WN/ba-p/41573

Another one has a comment that is intriguing and plausible(?):

"Prior to deregulation airlines needed a federal certificate of public convenience and necessity. When they had plans to expand beyond the state of Texas, Southwest bought the ceftificate from another carrier that I think was Western. In the Government system each carrier had a two letter identifier so when Southwest bought Western's certificate, they became WN."

source: https://www.southwestaircommunity.com/t5/Blog/Mystery-About-SW-WN-Solved/ba-p/706 (last comment.
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timpdx
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:13 am

To correct the original post:

Finnair is AY, EY is Etihad.
Last edited by timpdx on Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:17 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:16 am

STLflyer wrote:
Always wondered where WN comes from, anyone know?


SW was taken by a Namibian airline South West Transport, and they didn’t want to sell the code.
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barefootchris
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:20 am

SW was taken by a Namibian airline South West Transport, and they didn’t want to sell the code.


This is confirmed in the blogs I shared above. Apparently, the Namibians wanted a ridiculous amount of money to give up the code.
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Veigar
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:54 am

How did America West become "HP" ?
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:57 am

barefootchris wrote:
SW was taken by a Namibian airline South West Transport, and they didn’t want to sell the code.


This is confirmed in the blogs I shared above. Apparently, the Namibians wanted a ridiculous amount of money to give up the code.


Yes but it was only a deposit so that they could unlock the accounts of the deceased president who had willed the amount back to WN. I think I was copied on the email by mistake.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 3:29 am

Horizon's "QX" came from....well...it was available and sounded the best of the codes that were available at the time. Back in the day, Horizon's airplanes also had tail numbers that ended in "PH". Horizon's original working name was "Pacific Horizon" and the route network was to feature jets (likely 707s) and operate West Coast US to Hawaii. The plan obviously changed to include F27s and operate Yakima/Pasco-Seattle. With the Q400s and the CRJ-700s there were limited tail numbers available ending in "PH", so the airline switched to the "QX" you see on today's airplanes.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 3:36 am

Asiana/OZ - word is that they wanted AA but well everyone knows what it is. So they went..."let's go nuts" mode and chose what sounded the coolest - the wizards of OZ!
 
FSDan
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 3:46 am

I assume all the airlines with numbered codes were just picking up available pairs of characters... B6, 3M, G4, Y4, 3U, etc.
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 4:03 am

FSDan wrote:
I assume all the airlines with numbered codes were just picking up available pairs of characters... B6, 3M, G4, Y4, 3U, etc.


Except for airlines like 4U (Germanwings) and U2 (Easyjet)...
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 4:08 am

STLflyer wrote:
Always wondered where WN comes from, anyone know?


There’s a legend in the company that WN came from the fact that Colleen Barett is a huge Willie Nelson fan.

In the 80s Southwest approached Air Namibia and made them an offer for 737 parts and some other stuff in exchange for the SW code. Air Namibia came back with some outrageous quote and the deal failed.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 4:10 am

Veigar wrote:
How did America West become "HP" ?


I remember asking one of the early HP execs about this long ago, and they said all other two-letter IATA codes were taken, except for ones with numbers, and they didn't want to do that. So, HP was there and Ed Beauvais accepted it.

History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes


They're just IATA codes; I see "shortcode" and I'm thinking you want to know what number to use to text them....
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 4:13 am

barefootchris wrote:
intriguing and plausible(?):

"Prior to deregulation airlines needed a federal certificate of public convenience and necessity. When they had plans to expand beyond the state of Texas, Southwest bought the ceftificate from another carrier that I think was Western. In the Government system each carrier had a two letter identifier so when Southwest bought Western's certificate, they became WN."

source: https://www.southwestaircommunity.com/t5/Blog/Mystery-About-SW-WN-Solved/ba-p/706 (last comment.


No. Western was around until 1987, when Delta acquired them. Southwest expanded out of Texas in 1979. Western's code was WA, not WN.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 4:19 am

Fedex was FM and FX was the code for German Cargo up to the late 90s. I believe a deal was made and Lufthansa Cargo took over FM and Fedex got (bought?) FX.

bug
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 5:29 am

[list=][/list]
69bug wrote:
Fedex was FM and FX was the code for German Cargo up to the late 90s. I believe a deal was made and Lufthansa Cargo took over FM and Fedex got (bought?) FX.

bug


Federal Express had MB between FM and FX.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 5:59 am

Spirit Airlines’ “NK” code is short for “Ned’s Kids”, named after the original founder Ned Homfeld and how he treated his employees like family.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 6:10 am

Love how S7 is also the name of the airline! Great livery as well.
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cedarjet
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 6:33 am

OS for Austrian, literal spelling of their first syllable
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conaly
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 6:36 am

LX for Swiss came from Crossair. After the downfall of Swissair (SR) the whole operation of the airline has been transferred to Crossair, which continued with the new name Swiss. Where Crossair got the code from I am not 100% sure, but this sounds plausible: Business Flyers Basel AG, an air taxi company, which was founded by the same guy, has been integrated into the newly founded Crossair. It could have taken the code from the designation as an air taxi, which would translate into "Lufttaxi" in German.

Qantas59 wrote:
Love how S7 is also the name of the airline! Great livery as well.

The code was actually there before the airline took that name. Until around 2006 the airline was titled "Siberia Airlines" (or "Aviakompania Sibir" in Russian transskription) and is legally still registered with that name. Why it got S7 I can only speculate. Maybe they wanted something with an S as their code but SA to SZ have already been occupied. Don't know to be honest.
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 6:44 am

To be clear, MS makes sense for Arabic speakers as Masr is the name for Egypt in Arabic.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 7:37 am

Jet2 is LS which is the first part of the post code (zip code) in Leeds where its headquarters are.
 
oldannyboy
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 7:44 am

Some trivia...

I seem to remember that in the '80s German regional (but expanding) airline NFS' two-letter code was NS, which for obvious historical reasons sounded less than appropriate, and they exchanged it at no cost for another airline's code..

EVA Air's BR was previously used by British Caledonian, and in my mind BR still has that blue and yellow leaping lion lovely image...

Monarch back in the day used OM but when they started scheduled flights they started using ZB, only to use MON in later years...
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 7:50 am

cedarjet wrote:
OS for Austrian, literal spelling of their first syllable


OS = Oesterreich (Austria in German)
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 7:51 am

cedarjet wrote:
OS for Austrian, literal spelling of their first syllable


I'm pretty sure it comes from Osterreich, the German word for Austria, and has nothing to do with phonetics in English.

While I'm been pedantic, the F of QF does not mean "flight" no matter how many times that lie is repeated. It has no meaning whatsoever, just a random letter assigned after Q. SQ and EK are other examples where the first letter is relevant but the second one means nothing.
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SRQKEF
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 9:07 am

SmartLynx, previously LatCharter, is 6Y = sexy.
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SASViking
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 10:40 am

Sterling Airways had NB which stood for Nordisk Bustrafik (Nordic bustraffic/transport).
When the travel agency Tjæreborg started in 1950, they operated bus tours from Denmark to Spain under the name "Nordisk Bustrafik", when Sterling Airways was created in 1962 by the same travel agency, they took NB as a tribute to their "heritage"
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 10:41 am

SRQKEF wrote:
SmartLynx, previously LatCharter, is 6Y = sexy.

Same goes for Alsie Express which have 6I :lol:
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 11:13 am

Ukraine International Airlines uses PS, which comes from Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) in California, famously known for their smiling aircraft.

Brussels Airlines uses SN, which comes from their predecessor SABENA that went bankrupt shortly after 9/11. Maybe Brussels Airlines can buy the IATA code from Eva Air :lol:
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 12:31 pm

Any idea why…
...the K in EK?
...Y in EY?
...Q in SQ?
...X in CX?

For SK, I guess because Scandinavian is spelled with K in Nordic languages?
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PB26
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 12:34 pm

VARIG's RG came from Rio Grande do Sul, the company birthstate
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 12:53 pm

timpdx wrote:
STLflyer wrote:
Always wondered where WN comes from, anyone know?


SW was taken by a Namibian airline South West Transport, and they didn’t want to sell the code.


For those of you wondering why an airline based in Namibia was named South West Transport, the nation now known as Namibia was previously called Southwest Africa.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 12:54 pm

PB26 wrote:
VARIG's RG came from Rio Grande do Sul, the company birthstate


In that vein, how did TAM (pretty much Varig's replacement) get a code JJ?
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:03 pm

Fly-K wrote:
Any idea why…
...the K in EK?
...Y in EY?
...Q in SQ?
...X in CX?

For SK, I guess because Scandinavian is spelled with K in Nordic languages?


Yes, Scandinavian = Skandinaviske.
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SASViking
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:05 pm

Fly-K wrote:

For SK, I guess because Scandinavian is spelled with K in Nordic languages?

You're right. Scandinavia is "Skandinavien" in Danish and Swedish and "Skandinavia" in Norwegian.
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:13 pm

When Eurowings was formed by the merger of Nürnberger Flugdienst (NFD) and Reise- und Industrieflug (RFG) it got the NS code from Nürnberger Flugdienst (NFD). However, NS was unsatisfactory to say the least with memories of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party) so the replacement code of EW was obtained which was used by Australian airline East West that operated until October 1993.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:41 pm

gunnerman wrote:
When Eurowings was formed by the merger of Nürnberger Flugdienst (NFD) and Reise- und Industrieflug (RFG) it got the NS code from Nürnberger Flugdienst (NFD). However, NS was unsatisfactory to say the least with memories of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party) so the replacement code of EW was obtained which was used by Australian airline East West that operated until October 1993.


Would that be from the German acronym NSDAP? As an American, I was initially confused about the association.
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dtremit
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:51 pm

Fly-K wrote:
Any idea why…
...the K in EK?
...Y in EY?
...Q in SQ?
...X in CX?


My guess is these are as simple as "what's the best available code that starts with the same first letter as our airline?" Canadian Pacific would have beat Cathay to the punch by just a couple of years. Empire Airlines predates Emirates, of course, and Ethiopian and NH's A-Net had the two obvious codes for Etihad.

I am curious if anything had "SG" in 1974. It's SpiceJet today, which obviously wasn't around then. I could imagine not wanting "SI" due to I / 1 ambiguity.
 
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:59 pm

Qantas59 wrote:
Love how S7 is also the name of the airline! Great livery as well.

In a similar manner, Czech Airlines named their frequent flyer program after their IATA code: OK Plus.

I know we're talking about IATA, but I'm surprised AA hasn't changed its ICAO code to USA. I recall reading that AA initially wanted its ICAO code to be USA but it was given to USAir instead.
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Re: History behind idiosyncratic IATA airline shortcodes

Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:01 pm

One code that has never ceased to baffle me belongs to the biggest airline failure of the year. How on Earth did Jet Airways get 9W? If codes are visualised as a grid/matrix, 9W comes at the very end of the matrix of codes of the 1A type (digit followed by letter), and I think that codes near the beginning of the matrix (beginning with A) are much more desirable than those at the end.

SASViking wrote:
SRQKEF wrote:
SmartLynx, previously LatCharter, is 6Y = sexy.

Same goes for Alsie Express which have 6I :lol:

You are missing the big one. IndiGo chose the 6E code precisely because it sounds like ‘sexy’. When AirAsia India launched, there was an article in the Times of India that had a paragraph on the IATA codes of some Indian airlines.

Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia has scored a high five when it comes to getting an airline code. The JV, AirAsia India Pvt. Ltd. (AAIPL), has got ‘I5’ as its airline code and becomes the only Indian carrier to have a smart code apart from IndiGo which has ‘6E’—to rhyme with ‘sexy’—as its code.
GoAir’s G8 is closer to great, if stretched a bit. All other Indian airlines have either abbreviations of their names or random codes. Air India has AI code. Jet Airways, JetKonnect and SpiceJet have 9W, S2 and SG as their rather unimaginative codes.
AAIPL CEO Mittu Chandilya had told TOI earlier this month that he wanted a number and an alphabet in the airline’s code. Clearly, he came up with a smart one with I5.

Of course, from India we also have Vistara, which is the first non-British airline to have the ‘UK’ code.

Among non-Indian airlines, some interesting codes that have no explanation that I know of are as follows (plenty of Chinese airlines like GS, HO, JD, MF and PN):
  • AT: Royal Air Maroc
  • BR: EVA Air (no relation whatsoever to British Caledonian)
  • DD: Nok Air
  • DY: Norwegian Air Shuttle (every code in the Norwegian group begins with D: DY, D8, DI, DN)
  • FD: Thai AirAsia
  • FR: Ryanair
  • FV: Rossiya (its ICAO code, SDM, is equally random)
  • GK: Jetstar Japan (and formerly Laker Airways)
  • GS: Tianjin Airlines
  • HO: Juneyao Airlines
  • HV: Transavia
  • JD: Capital Airlines (and formerly Japan Air System)
  • JT: Lion Air
  • KA: Cathay Dragon (perhaps inspired by Kai Tak?)
  • LY: El Al Israel Airlines
  • MF: Xiamen Air
  • MI: SilkAir
  • MT: Thomas Cook Airlines (R.I.P.)
  • NX: Air Macau
  • OU: Croatia Airlines (they could have chosen HR, following Austrian’s lead in choosing OS)
  • OZ: Asiana Airlines (something Qantas might have utilised)
  • PG: Bangkok Airways
  • PN: West Air
  • RB: Syrian Air
  • UB: Myanmar National Airlines
  • UL: SriLankan Airlines
  • UX: Air Europa (a code better associated with interface design)
  • WB: RwandAir
  • WY: Oman Air (self-explanatory: WHY?!)

Of course we have the famous AK (AirAsia), CX, CZ, EK, EY, MH, PR, QF, SQ, SV, TG, etc. where the first letter of the code matches the first letter of the airline, but the second letter is very random. Then there is the reverse case; the second letter makes sense but not the first:
    .
  • DT: TAAG Angola Airlines
  • TM: LAM Mozambique Airlines
  • KM: Air Malta
  • YM: Montenegro Airlines
  • OM: MIAT Mongolian Airlines
Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the first two are both Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.

SASViking wrote:
Sterling Airways had NB which stood for Nordisk Bustrafik (Nordic bustraffic/transport).
When the travel agency Tjæreborg started in 1950, they operated bus tours from Denmark to Spain under the name "Nordisk Bustrafik", when Sterling Airways was created in 1962 by the same travel agency, they took NB as a tribute to their "heritage"

Today, Tjæreborg (spelled as Tjäreborg) is present only in Finland, which is a decidedly non-Scandinavian country. A strange case of a Scandinavian name being used in a non-Scandinavian country. Fortunately Tjäreborg (along with Spies in Denmark, and Ving in Norway and Sweden, as well as Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia) were unaffected by the collapse of the Thomas Cook Group.

That said, DK is an extremely appropriate code for Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia, as it is based in Denmark. Similarly DE for Condor (Germany), ID for Batik Air (Indonesia) and ZH for Shenzhen Airlines (not only because of ShenZHen, but also because the Chinese name for China, zhongguo, begins with ZH). Similarly for all those British airlines that had the UK code before Vistara came along.

FSDan wrote:
I assume all the airlines with numbered codes were just picking up available pairs of characters... B6, 3M, G4, Y4, 3U, etc.

Good examples of letter–number combinations that make absolutely no sense at all:
  • Latin America: Y4 (Volaris), 4O (Interjet) and H2 (Sky Airline). At the other end of the spectrum is JA (JetSmart). Also BW (Caribbean Airlines), which inherits its code from BWIA West Indies Airways.
  • Europe: U2 (easyJet), X3 (TUI fly Deutschland), 0B (Blue Air; the only code I know of that begins with a zero), 9U (Air Moldova; the same strange logic as neighbour Jet Airways).
  • Middle East and Africa: G9 (Air Arabia), 6H (Israir Airlines), 8Q (Onur Air), 8U (Afriqiyah Airways).
  • Eastern Asia: D7 (AirAsia X, especially given that Thai and Indonesian AirAsia X have XJ and XT, respectively); as well as 5J (Cebu Pacific Air) and Z2 (Philippines AirAsia, though this comes from Zest Airways).
Last edited by VTCIE on Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:26 pm, edited 3 times in total.
In grieving remembrance of the thousands of people who lost their lives on ET-AVJ, PK-LQP, XA-UHZ, S2-AGU, CP-2933, SU-GCC, EI-ETJ, D-AIPX, PK-AXC, 9M-MRD, VT-AXV and above all 9M-MRO, besides many more. Your deaths are not in vain. Safety first, always.

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