On the most recent episode of the always-excellent “Airlines Confidential” podcast journalist Seth Kaplan and former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza were talking about airport codes and they shared several things I wasn’t aware of, though perhaps have heard in passing before.
- Airport codes beginning with N are reserved for naval air stations (so “Newark is EWR”) Seth Kaplan says Akron, Ohio – home to the football hall of fan – therefore cannot be ‘NFL’.
- Codes beginning with W and K are reserved to avoid confusion with radio stations which is why MCI – Kansas City International – isn’t KCI (but local media refers to it frequently as KCI)
- Some airports kept National Weather Service codes when moving to 3 letter codes, and added an X (PDX, LAX, PHX)
- Two airports within the same region cannot have the same first and second, or second and third letters. The idea is to avoid confusion between DCA and IAD, IAH and HOU, DFW and DAL, etc.
- The FAA has 3 letter codes that are usually the same as IATA codes, but in the case of Phpenix Mesa Gateway the IATA code is AZA but that’s not what the FAA uses. The FAA code, used for general aviation, is IWA.
While it’s difficult to change an airport code, not only complying with the rules above but also making sure the code isn’t taken, it’s something that’s certainly been done. For instance Idlewild (IDL) became JFK.
However when Fresno Air Terminal (FAT) changed its name to Fresno Yosemite International, to market the airport as a gateway to Yosemite National Park, they were unsuccessful in getting their code changed to FYI. They can call themselves FYI if they wish, of course, even if it’s not used officially.
Denver (DEN) isn’t DIA, but local media refers to it as DIA. Ben Baldanza suggests though that at one point the new airport was going to use DIA rather than transferring DEN from Stapleton, which was decommissioned as a commercial airport. Why on earth I sometimes see Orlando news media referring to ‘MCO’ as OIA though I do not know.
Talking about Baltimore airport changing its code from BAL to BWI in 1980, former Spirit Airlines CEO asks “I wonder what Bewani is now and I wonder if they had to bribe ’em in any way, if Baltimore had to pay ’em something, how they get them to take another code.”
Credit: BWI Airport
As it turns out I’ve answered that question.
- When Baltimore remained itself Baltimore Washington International they wanted the code BWI, but it was already taken by the airport in Bewani, Papua New Guinea.
- However when Air Niugini wanted to fly to Hawaii the US government demanded the airport code in exchange for the route authority.
- Air Niugini no longer offers Honolulu service, while Bewani Airport – 608 miles Northwest of Port Moresby – remains BWP.