The IATA is the modern successor to the International Air Traffic Association which was established in the year of the world's first international liner services in 1919. The headquarters of IATA is located in Montreal, Canada.
The history of IATA
On April 19, 1945, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) was founded in Havana, Cuba. The IATA issues codes for airports, airlines, aircraft types and stations. It is an umbrella organisation that works for safe, systematic and economical air transport of both people and goods. The codes issued by IATA consist of three letters or a letter and a number.
Since its foundation in 1945, the internationally planned air transport industry has increased by more than 100 times. At its establishment, the IATA had 57 members from 31 countries. These were mainly countries from Europe and North America. In 2018 the membership of the IATA has grown to about 290 members from 120 countries in all parts of the world. IATA covers 89% of all flight movements around the world.
IATA is a trade organisation that serves as a meeting point for the airlines and represents almost the entire aviation industry. The organisation wants to be, within the aviation industry, a driving force behind value creation and innovation.
What are IATA codes?
An IATA code, consisting of three letters, is linked to each national and international airport. This is also called the three-letter code. The IATA code is based on the initial letters of the city or airport in English spelling. Example: London Heathrow Airport has the "LHR" as the IATA code. Sometimes it happens that the code deviates from the rule that it has the initial letter of the city or airport, for example, Groningen Eelde Airport has as code GRQ. Not all codes are unique; Of the 17,576 possible codes, 323 are used for more than one airport.
IATA codes are not only used for airports, but there are also IATA codes for important train and bus stations. The main reason why the IATA codes are not only used for airports is that air carriers nowadays increasingly use alternative methods of transport for so-called "feeder flights".
Fun fact: Los Angeles International Airport used to be an abbreviation LA, but when the IATA switched to three letters a third letter had to be added. Because there was no clear third letter, they opted for the letter X. So, the IATA code of Los Angeles International Airport is LAX.
Why use IATA codes?
The International Air Transport Association has assigned each airline a 2-letter code and each airport a 3-letter code. The reason why these codes are assigned is so that these codes can be used for identification in documents and communication systems. Because of these codes, communication in the aviation industry is much faster. In the aviation world, these codes are used in the system applications. The systems can identify destinations, (freight) handlers and documents by means of these codes.
Two-letter IATA codes
In addition to the three-letter code, IATA codes of two characters exist. These "two-letter codes" are used to indicate airlines. The "two-letter code" can consist of two letters or a number and a letter. You may have encountered these codes on flight tickets or on departure and arrival signs at airports.
Three-letter IATA codes
The IATA airport code exists, especially for airports. This code consists of three letters and is designed to make every airport in the world recognizable.
IATA or ICAO
ICAO codes are issued for airports where no commercial airlines fly. People often confuse the IATA code with the ICAO code. ICAO stands for International Civil Aviation Organization, and the codes are used to categorise airports, heliports, airlines and aircraft types.
In the past, the ICAO code consisted of two letters; nowadays this code consists of four letters. The code is used by air traffic control and in the planning and execution of flights.
The advantages of IATA codes
The great advantage of assigning IATA codes to airports and airlines is that communication, using communication systems that are used in aviation, is much faster and smoother.
IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations
An updated edition of the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations is published each year. This document describes the rules for the transport of dangerous goods by air. For transportation, the regulations in title 6.5 of the Aviation Act must be complied with.
For more information about other airport codes, please visit our pages about FAA codes and ICAO codes.