An airport is a location where aircraft, such as airplanes and helicopters, can land and take off. Commercial airports usually have facilities to store and maintain aircraft and a control tower. Larger airports may have multiple runways, taxiways, terminal buildings, air traffic control, weather stations, and security systems.
Other terms used to refer to airports includes aerodrome, airfield, and airstrip.
According to Lance Sherry of George Mason University, the earliest airports were simply open, grassy fields and airports could approach at any angle with favorable speed. During World War II, there was a very high increase in use of planes and led to the development of paved landing fields that you see today.
In the US and Canada, an airport dedicated to the military is called an airbase.
Other terms you may hear that are worth understanding are;
- Heliport: an airport for helicopters
- Seaplane base: an airport with seaplanes
- Spaceport: an airport designed to launch rockets into space.
Most airports around the world share some common features and areas. These include:
– The terminal: where passengers check in, drop off baggage and go through security. This is very important for you to understand as airports are arranged by terminal numbers and different airlines use different terminals. When flying, it is essential to know which terminal your airline uses in any particular airport.
– The runway: the strip of concrete or asphalt where aircraft take off and land.
– The apron or tarmac: the area where aircraft are parked, loaded, and unloaded.
– The control tower: the building from where air traffic controllers direct aircraft movements on the ground and in the air.
– The hangar: the large building where aircraft are stored and maintained.
Now that we know the basics of what an airport is, let’s move on to the different types of airports.
Who manages airports?
In the United States, airports are managed by local or regional authorities such as city governments, while in other countries they may be owned and operated by the national government.
Large airports are usually run by airport authorities or boards, which may also be responsible for other transport hubs in the same area, such as seaports and railway stations.
In New York, for example, New York City Council leased land to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to build what is now John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
In Canada, the federal government owns and operates most airports through Transport Canada, while smaller airports are often run by municipal governments or non-profit organizations.
The lease period usually lasts for 10 to be renewed.
There are three main types of airports:
these have customs and immigration facilities to deal with passengers arriving from other countries. They tend to be larger than domestic airports and usually have more runways. In the US, airports such as JFK, LAX, SLC, DFW, MIA, and ORD are all international airports.
The first international airport was the Croydon Airport, in South London which was opened in 1920. It remained the only UK international airport during the interwar period from 1918 to 1939. It was, however, closed in 1959 about 7 years before Heathrow opened its doors in 1966.
International airports provide a link for countries to the outside world and most countries now have more than one international airport. UK’s London, for example, has six: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, City, and Southend. The US several international airports but the main ones are JFK, LAX, SFO, EWR, IAH, ORD, FLL, ATL, and DFW.
as the name suggests, these only serve domestic flights within a country. They usually don’t have customs and immigration facilities. In the US, some examples of domestic airports include LAX, SLC, DFW, MIA, and ORD (which also serves international flights. Some domestic airports that don’t serve international flights include Long Island MacArthur Airport, New York Stewart International Airport, and Fort Wayne International Airport.
Unlike international airports, most countries have several domestic airports. In the US, for example, there are more than 450 domestic airports.
Domestic airports have limited security compared to international airports. For example, before some domestic airports can be upgraded to ‘international’ status, they are required to upgrade their security significantly. Some countries, in fact, dictate the type of security that they’d like to see for airlines to depart and directly fly to their countries.
these are smaller than international or domestic airports and usually only have a few flights a day to and from a limited number of destinations. They tend to be located in smaller towns or cities. An example of a regional airport in the US is Burlington International Airport in Vermont.
Airport naming and designations:
Airports are usually named after the city they are located in, sometimes with a regional identifier.
For example, London Heathrow Airport is located in London and serves as one of the main airports serving not only the UK but also Europe and the rest of the world.
In some cases, an airport may be named after a famous person or after the airport’s owner. For example, JFK is named after John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, while ORD is named after Orville Wright, one of the inventors of the airplane. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is named after the two cities it serves Dallas and Fort Worth.
In other cases, an airport may have a more unique name that sets it apart from other airports. For example, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is named after former Nevada Senator Pat McCarran.
Airports can also be designated with certain letters or numbers that identify it on a map or sign.
IATA airport code and ICAO airport code:
IATA stands for International Air Transport Association and ICAO stands for International Civil Aviation Organization. Both are organizations that work to standardize the aviation industry.
The IATA airport code is a three-letter code that is used to identify airports around the world. All airports are assigned a three-letter IATA airport code. These codes are used by airlines and travel agents to identify airports.
For example, JFK is the IATA code for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport while LAX is the IATA code for Los Angeles International Airport.
In addition to an IATA code, all airports are also assigned a four-letter ICAO airport code. These codes are used by air traffic controllers and pilots to identify airports.
The IATA code for JFK is KJFK while the ICAO code is JFK. Similarly, the IATA code for LAX is KLAX and the ICAO code is LAX.
There are exceptions to the naming though. O’Hare International Airport in Chicago has the IATA code of ORD, which stands for Orchard Field, its former name.
IATA was founded in 1945 in Montreal, Canada by the World’s airlines and as of June 2022, it now has 290 members – mostly major airlines from 117 countries. It’s headquartered in Quebec Canada and here is its website.
ICAO was formed 2 years later on 4, April 1947 as a UN specialized agency that is responsible for planning or air navigation and providing guidance on safety practices. Headquartered in Montreal, it has 193 contracting states – basically all UN member states. Read more about the 15 UN specialized agencies on this Wikipedia page here. ICAO also has a Wikipedia page here or can visit their website here.
Now that we know the different types of airports, and how they are named, let’s move on to some of the other important features and areas in airports.
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