The three-letter Airport Codes! Why do they even exist?

Have you ever wondered what could be the purpose of using code names for Airports? We are talking about the three-letters that we see while booking the flight. Cochin International Airport, for example, appears as “COK” and Chennai International Airport is “MAA”. Sometimes the code corresponds to the first letters of the Airport’s name, but not always.

This is an IATA airport code, also known as an IATA location identifier, IATA station code, or simply a location identifier. No two airports have the same codes. This is unique like our bank account number or PAN.

These airport codes are geocodes defined by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). They are essential for the identification of an airline, its destinations, and its traffic documents. The assignment of these codes is governed by IATA Resolution 763, and it is administered by the IATA’s headquarters in Montreal. Airport codes are published in the IATA Airline Coding Directory every six months.

Airport coding first began in the 1930s, and airlines typically choose their own two-letter codes. At that time, pilots in the United States used the two-letter code from the National Weather Service for identifying cities. By the late 1940s, the number of airports increased, making the two-letter code system unmanageable. Eventually, a three-letter system was implemented. Well, that’s the history of the codes.

Now, airport codes are fundamental to the smooth running of hundreds of electronic applications which have been built around these coding systems for passenger and cargo traffic purposes.

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