Airport Idents: Where Do They Come From?

We are taking a break from the insurance topics to touch on something I think many aviators think about but never really look into — airport IDs. I read an article not too long ago that shed some light on the origins of our most frequented and favorite airports. These three-letter-codes have certainly sparked debate about their meaning and how they came to be. There are some that are easily recognizable, like JFK, but the fun begins when identifiers seem to have little or no relationship to their airports. For example, you might assume that the code for Chicago’s O’Hare International would be something like OHI. Nope, it’s ORD. Why?

The airport was once the site of an aircraft factory known as Orchard Place. Thus, the ORD designation is for Orchard. The code for Teterboro is logical: TEB. Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, however, is HPN. The letters stand for the three surrounding communities: Harrison, Purchase, and New Castle. If you search a list of idents, you’ll find some are obvious and some seem nonsensical. Most of the nonobvious codes aren’t random; they generally refer to a historical event or place. Researching the origin of your favorite airport’s code can be fun and interesting and you might even learn something along the way!