Code Name: Airports

“ICN? CDG? JFK?”

Three letters you always see on your airline ticket! You can also see them online when you book your flight or at airports on the flight information display system. As you might’ve probably already guessed, airports use three letters as abbreviations of their full name—but what exactly is it and why is it used? Let’s find out!

Airports’ three-letter abbreviations are referred to as airport codes. If countries call airports by different names—whether by mistranslation or colloquial terms—it may cause huge confusion. Airport codes are airports’ standardized names to maintain consistency and order in international air traffic.

Moreover, airport codes allow people to find the airport easily, which is convenient for both passengers and air traffic staff. For instance, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, which is a long name, can be abbreviated as BWI. In particular, this is something necessary for pilots and air traffic controller who must communicate quickly.

All-too-familiar three-letter IATA airport codes

These convenient airport codes can be divided into two: IATA airport codes and ICAO airport codes.

To begin with, IATA airport codes are three-letter codes that we often see and are familiar with. These codes are designated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an association of private airlines across the world. The region where the airport is located or its abbreviation is used for the code. It allows us to identify the airport easily.

Incheon Airport’s IATA code ICN is an abbreviation of InCheoN. As such, there are many airport codes named after their region. London Heathrow Airport’s LHR is an abbreviation of London HeathRow, and Tokyo Narita International Airport’s NRT is an abbreviation of NaRiTa.

Meanwhile, some airports’ IATA airport codes are direct acronyms. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport’s CDG is an acronym for its full name Charles De Gaulle. These shortened IATA airport codes allow passengers to identify airports more intuitively.

Uniquely systematic four-letter ICAO airport codes

By contrast, ICAO airport codes are assigned by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which aims for the safety and development of international airlines. Unlike IATA airport codes, ICAO airport codes consist of four letters. It is used among working-level employees in the air transportation industry.

In fact, unlike IATA airport codes, ICAO airport codes are less intuitive. This is because codes are assigned according to country and region based on complex logic. However, if you look closely, you may roughly get a basic idea of the codes. The first letter is set by the world region, the second letter by country, and the third and fourth by city, local area, and airport.

Let’s apply the above rule to Incheon Airport, shall we? For starters, Incheon Airport’s ICAO code is RKSI. Looking at the global regions on the map, which assign the first alphabet letter, Korea is located in R and the second letter K refers to Korea within R.

The third letter of S refers to Seoul Approach Air Traffic Control, and the last letter I comes from Incheon International Airport. Since ICAO airport codes are used professionally, not many people may be familiar with it.

In this post, we looked at and deciphered airport codes. We hope that this gave you a better understanding of airport codes! Then, now that you know more about airport codes, you can focus on enjoying a fun and safe trip next time you visit Incheon Airport!

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