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This is a list of Airline codes. The table lists the IATA airline designators, the ICAO airline designators and the airline call signs (telephony designator). Historical assignments are also included for completeness.
IATA airline designator
IATA airline designators, sometimes called IATA reservation codes, are three-character codes assigned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to the world's airlines. The standard is described in IATA's twice-annual publication, the "Standard Schedules Information Manual". Airline designator codes are of the format "xx(a)", i.e. two alpha-numeric characters followed by an optional alpha character. Although the IATA standard provides for three-character airline designators, IATA has, to date (July 2008) not used the optional third character in any assigned code. This is because some legacy computer systems, especially the so-called "central reservations systems", have failed to comply with the standard, notwithstanding the fact that it has been in place for 20 years. The codes issued to date comply with IATA Resolution 762, which provides for only 2-characters. These codes thus comply with the airline designator standard, but use only a limited subset of its possible range. However there are other big air operators which are not IATA airline designator.
A flight designator comprises the airline designator, "xx(a)", plus the numeric flight number, "n(n)(n)(n)", plus an optional, so-called, "operational suffix" being one alpha character, "(a)". The full format of a flight designator is thus: "xx(a)n(n)(n)(n)(a)".
Designators are used to identify an airline for commercial purposes, including reservations, timetables, tickets, tariffs, air waybills and in airline interline telecommunications. There are three types of designator: unique, numeric/alpha and controlled duplicate.
Note that, since 1987, ICAO has also issued airline identification codes. ICAO codes are three characters in length. For many years, IATA has let it be known that they are "about" to adopt the ICAO codes as IATA airline designators. This has never occurred and IATA has made no statement about when, if ever, they intend to do so.
IATA maintains two policies to deal with the limited number of available codes:
- after an airline is delisted, the code becomes available for reuse after six months;
- IATA issues "controlled duplicates".
Controlled duplicates are issued to regional airlines whose destinations are not likely to overlap, in such a way that the same code would be shared by two different airlines. The controlled duplicate is denoted here with an asterisk (*) following the code and in IATA literature as well.
Of course, use of the third character, provided by the standard, would alleviate the code space limitation problem.
IATA also issues an accounting or prefix code. This number is used on tickets as the first three characters of the ticket number.
ICAO airline designator
The ICAO airline designator is a code assigned by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to aircraft operating agencies, aeronautical authorities and services. The codes are unique by airline which is not true for the IATA airline designator codes.
Each aircraft operating agency, aeronautical authority and services related to international aviation is allocated both a three-letter designator and a telephony designator. The designators are listed in ICAO Document 8585: Designators for Aircraft Operating Agencies, Aeronautical Authorities and Services.
An example is:
- Three-letter designator – AAL
- Telephony designator – AMERICAN
- Operator – American Airlines
Certain combinations of letters are not allocated to avoid confusion with other systems (for example SOS). Other designators particularly those starting with Y and Z are reserved for government organizations.
Designator YYY is used for operators that do not have a code allocated.
Call signs (Flight identification or flight ID)
Most airlines employ a distinctive and internationally recognized call sign that is normally spoken during airband radio transmissions. As by ICAO Annex 10 chapter 188.8.131.52.2.1 a call sign shall be one of the following types:
Type a – the characters corresponding to the registration marking of the aircraft
Type b – the telephony designator of the aircraft operating agency, followed by the last four characters of the registration marking of the aircraft
Type c – the telephony designator of the aircraft operating agency, followed by the flight identification
The one most widely used within commercial aviation is type c. It is very often mistaken that only the telephony designator would be the call sign (for example "speedbird" for British Airways flights). The flight identification is very often the same as the flight number, though this is not always the case. In case of call sign confusion a different flight identification can be chosen, the flight number will remain the same. Call sign confusion happens when two or more flights with similar flight numbers fly close to each other, e.g., KL645 and KL649 or BA466 and BA646.
The flight number is normally published in their public timetable and appears on the arrivals and departure screens in the airport terminals served by that particular flight. In cases of emergency, the airline name and flight number, rather than the call sign, are normally mentioned by the main news media.
Some call signs are less obviously associated with a particular airline than others. This might be for historic reasons, or possibly to avoid confusion with a call sign used by an established airline.
Not all of these operators of aircraft are civilian and some only operate ad hoc chartered flights rather than scheduled flights; some operate both types of flights. Some cargo airlines specialize in freight transport, an emphasis that may be reflected in the company's name.
Companies' names will change over time, normally due to bankruptcies or mergers occurring. Country names can also change over time and new call signs may be agreed in substitution for traditional ones. The country shown alongside an airline's call sign is that wherein most of its aircraft are believed to be registered, which may not always be the same as the country in which the firm is officially incorporated or registered. There are many other airlines in business whose radio call signs are more obviously derived from the trading name.
The callsign should normally resemble the operators name or function and not be confused with callsigns used by other operators. The callsign should be easily and phonetically pronounceable in at least English, French, Spanish or Russian.
Published - January 2009
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