Three Letter Oddities

On December 22, 2013 · 10 Comments

I mentioned OGG as the three-letter airport code for Kahului Airport on the Hawaiian island of Maui in the Middling article for no greater significance than I found it amusing and it sounded like something a caveman might say. A little Intertubes sleuthing led me to an easy explanation at Airport ABCs, an article reprinted from the December 1994 edition of Air Line Pilot. Why OGG? The designation was created "in honor of aviation legend, and Lihue native, Capt. Bertram J. Hogg (pronounced Hoag)."

The International Air Transport Association a trade group of "240 members comprise 84% of the total air traffic" and known more commonly by its acronym IATA, assigned these codes. Most visible to the average airline traveler, those are the sometimes cryptic three-letter combinations one sees printed on baggage tags that route them to their proper destinations. Usually. Unique codes identify hundreds of distinct airports everywhere around the world, large and small, served by commercial airlines.

Codes ranged from AAA (Anaa Airport, French Polynesia) to ZZV (Zanesville Airport, Ohio, USA), and offered a dizzying array of entertaining combinations. It would border on negligence if I failed to mention the best of the lot even though it’s already well known. I just couldn’t help myself. You knew what was coming — Sioux Gateway Airport serving Sioux City, Iowa.

This Airport SUX

The SUX designation had been applied in an earlier time before "sucks" became so closely synonymous with lousy situations and things. Sioux City politicians began lobbying for a new code in the 1990’s. They abandoned their effort a few years later and decided to stick with SUX after being offered nothing better. They later came to embrace SUX as a marketing tool. Now the airport website proudly proclaims and sells merchandise.

Twelve Mile Circle reviewed every three-letter code to gather the best of the rest. I got about halfway through my task and discovered I’d collected primarily a list of obscenities. Being a family-friendly site, or at least a family-tolerant site, I felt an obligation to start anew and shift my focus away from the profane and tack back towards odd. Sorry Fukuoka Airport and your ilk, I discarded you. Actually a couple of codes were even more explicit — enough to make 12MC blush — and I won’t even hint at those.

I gathered some of the vast array of remaining options and placed them in a few logical groupings. Readers can play this game at home with other groupings. Options are practically endless.

Bumpy Landings

D’OH!: Doha, Qatar

Several codes might be completely harmless in their home languages while failing to instill a level of confidence through a prism of English language and popular culture. To wit, Doha, Qatar’s DOH came perilously close to Homer Simpson’s D’OH!

Other difficult transits might be inferred by,

  • BAD – Barksdale Air Force Base, Bossier City, Louisiana, United States
  • BOO – Bodø Airport, Bodø, Norway
  • EEK – Eek Airport, Eek, Alaska, United States
  • LIE – Libenge Airport, Libenge, Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • MUD – Mueda Airport, Mueda, Mozambique
  • SAD – Safford Regional Airport, Safford, Arizona, United States
  • WAA – Wales Airport (FAA: IWK), Wales, Alaska, United States

Airport Confidence

FLY to Finley, NSW, Australia

Other airports seemed to imply vastly superior experiences. I don’t know how tiny Finley, NSW, Australia managed to snag FLY, though. I would have thought airports around the world would have fought hard for that one. Any city in Florida or Finland might have also put that code to good use.

A few other attractive options,

  • ACE – Lanzarote Airport, Arrecife, Canary Islands, Spain
  • EZE – Ministro Pistarini International Airport Ezeiza, Argentina
  • SKY – Griffing Sandusky Airport, Sandusky, Ohio, United States
  • TLC – Lic. Adolfo López Mateos International Airport, Toluca, Estado de México, México
  • WOW – Willow Airport, Willow, Alaska, United States

Barnyard Theme

Have a COW; Coquimbo, Chile

I needed to come up with something innocuous and family-appropriate after my earlier thematic failure. An "Old MacDonald" farmyard motif arose from the lengthy list, although admittedly UDR for udder might have been stretching things a bit too far (no pun intended).

  • ARF – Acaricuara Airport, Acaricuara, Colombia
  • BAA – Bialla Airport, Bialla, Papua New Guinea
  • CAT – New Bight Airport, Cat Island, Bahamas
  • COW – Coquimbo Airport, Coquimbo, Coquimbo Region, Chile
  • DOG – Dongola Airport, Dongola, Sudan
  • MOO – Moomba Airport, Moomba, South Australia, Australia
  • PIG – Pitinga Airport, Pitinga, Brazil
  • RAT – Raduzhny Airport, Raduzhny, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, Russia
  • UDR – Udaipur Airport, Udaipur, India

My Airport

Airport in Timbuktu by James Joel on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

Then I got selfish. Which airports, I wondered, had three-letter codes that mattered to me personally. Obviously TOM would rank high on that list, although Timbuktu, Mali might not be the best place to visit at the moment due to civil unrest and rebellion. The code TOM derived from it French language spelling, Aéroport International de Tombouctou, a remnant of French colonial rule that lasted into the 1960’s.

TOM in Timbuktu, Mali

In recognition of my given name, my immense EGO, my fondness for food and fermented beverage, and my geo-oddity proclivities, I selected,

  • EGO – Belgorod Airport, Belgorod, Russia
  • TOM – Timbuktu Airport, Timbuktu, Mali
  • BBQ – Codrington Airport, Codrington, Barbuda, Antigua and Barbuda
  • HAM – Hamburg Airport, Hamburg / Fuhlsbüttel, Germany
  • PIE – St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, Pinellas Co., Florida, United States
  • ALE – Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport, Alpine, Texas, United States
  • IPA – Ipota Airport, Ipota, Erromango, Vanuatu
  • RUM – Rumjatar Airport, Rumjatar, Nepal
  • GEO – Cheddi Jagan International Airport (Timehri Int’l), Georgetown, Guyana
  • LOL – Derby Field, Lovelock, Nevada, United States
  • USA – Concord Regional Airport, Concord, North Carolina, United States

That would be an interesting world tour.

On December 22, 2013 · 10 Comments

10 Responses to “Three Letter Oddities”

  1. Calgully says:

    Port Lincoln, South Australia has the code PLO.

    I have flown into there, and I can assure you that having your bags tagged with PLO is disconcerting.

  2. Joe says:

    Better hurry up and build your own airport so you can reserve TMC since nobody’s taken it yet.

  3. David Overton says:

    We flew into DUD the other day to spend Christmas with my inlaws. The residents of Dunedin, New Zealand are not too thrilled with this airport code, I believe.

  4. Ross Finlayson says:

    My favorite: FAT (Fresno, California, USA).

  5. RSN says:

    The IATA codes also have a one-letter prefix that denotes the region in which the airport is located. In the US, that letter is “K”. Some airports with three-letter codes that don’t make sense – for example, EAR for Kearney, Nebraska, or EYW for Key West, make a lot more sense when you add the “K” on the front.

    • Philip Newton says:

      Those four-letter codes are ICAO codes, I think — and I think it might only be in the US that the four-letter code has as its last three letters the three-letter IATA code?

      I believe that in other places, the four-letter code is hierarchical (the first letter for continent, the second for country, the third for ATC region, the last indicating a particular airport in the region, or the like), so it would be difficult to make the last three letters be the same as the three-letter code.

      As an example, Hamburg has the recognisable three-letter HAM, but EDDH ((Northern) Europe – Deutschland/Germany – ??? – Hamburg) is less transparent.

  6. Peter says:

    Some airport codes reflect old names for the airports. For instance, MSY for New Orleans is for the old name of Moisant Field, while ORD for Chicago O’Hare stands for Orchard Field. CMH for Columbus is a curiosity, for Columbus Municipal Hangar.

    US airport codes cannot begin with N or W. That’s why Newark is EWR and Wilmington ILM. DCA, for Reagan National, means District of Columbia Airport, WAS being unavailable.

    • Congratulations Peter, you posted the four thousandth comment on 12MC! I don’t have any tangible prizes unfortunately — although I’ll be glad to research and talk about the geo-oddities in the town of your choice.

      • Peter says:

        Well that’s an honor!
        I’ll take up your offer: see if you can find any geo-oddities in Waterbury, Connecticut (my hometown) or Medford, New York (my current location). One possibility might be Waterbury’s water-supply system, which from what I learned in school had been one of the most advanced systems in the world when developed in the early 20th Century and is still among the country’s best.

  7. Michael Hewson says:

    Canadian airport identifiers start with Y (YYZ,YVR,YUL,YQB,YQX etc). The only exception I can think of (though there are probably others) is ZUM, since YUM is Yuma, although I have no idea where the “UM” came from in the case of Churchill Falls. “C” is the ICAO country code – hence CYYZ etc.

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