The Origin of Airport Codes

May 7, 2018

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport has a history beginning after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. A military airbase named Pinellas Army Airfield was built as a training base for the 304th Fighter Squadron and a combat unit of the 337th Fighter Group with the Army Air Force. After the war, the US Government gave the property to Pinellas County Florida and it was renamed the Pinellas International Airport with the airport code PIE. The original terminal was built in 1957, and in 1958 the airport was renamed St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport to recognize the region as a tourist destination…it now being commonly known as St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

St. Petersburg is the birthplace of commercial air travel. In 1914, just a decade after the Wright Brothers’ first flight, a Benoist airboat carried a fare-paying passenger from St. Petersburg to Tampa. A replica of that historic amphibious aircraft is displayed in PIE’s baggage claim area. Today PIE is a 2,000-acre certified facility with three ILS runways that can accommodate bad weather approaches, the busiest Coast Guard Station in the world, an FAA-operated control tower, US Customs and Border Protection, and an automated flight service station for local weather reports. The entire facility is designated as a Foreign Trade Zone.

Although the airport code PIE is pretty straightforward, not all airports have designators that make much sense today. Airport codes are assigned by IATA, the International Air Transport Association based in Montreal, Canada. Many codes have a resemblance to the city where they are located, but there are many exceptions. ORD, the code for Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, was originally named for Orchard Field, and the airport code never changed from that time. Airports in Canada all have codes starting with the letter ‘Y’, so they will never be close to the airport’s name or location. GRR is the code for Gerald R. Ford International in Grand Rapids, MI, so is the code for Gerald Ford or Grand Rapids? There is even a FAT airport at Fresno Yosemite International in Fresno, CA. For more information about IATA and airport information, visit

PIE may not identify the St. Petersburg and Clearwater areas directly, but its long history is recognized all the way back to WWII. If you are coming to or from the greater St.Pete/Clearwater area, make PIE your first choice for your air travel plans. And don’t forget to visit that Benoist in baggage claim!

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