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How Waypoints get their names, particularly some interesting  ones

IATA’s 3 letter airport codes- several turning the unfortunate into clever ads


This journal usually focuses on current safety issues. However, once in a while, it is wise to examine our industry’s past. This edition will discuss some of the origins of abbreviations used in Air Traffic and Airports. In addition, some of these memorable roots are also humorous.

Heinlein quote

From PIGLT to KOBBB: The reason behind some of the world’s most unusual waypoint names

Charlie Page

Mar 20, 2021


the Points GuyAs pilots, we notice changes to our navigation charts all the time. In fact, they are updated every month to keep up with the changes made around the world. However, once in a while, changes are made that really make you smile.

To honor the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, who were tragically killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles in January 2020, aviation officials in the U.S. did something special.

As part of the final approach to the two westerly landing runways at LAX, we fly over the final approach point (FAP). This five-letter named point determines the location where the final stage of the descent begins. It is also the point to which ATC requires us to maintain our assigned speed before slowing to our final approach speed. All-in-all, the FAP is a pretty significant point.

So, it’s a lovely touch that two of the most iconic people in Los Angeles now have their names on two of the most important points for aircraft arriving into LAX KOBBB and JIANA.

the KBB approach at LAX

The ILS 24R at LAX (Image courtesy of Lufthansa Systems)

However, what is the significance of these points and how do they get their names? As you’ll see, these aren’t the only two points in the world where the authorities got creative.

Point-to-point navigation

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GPS navigation

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What are we going to call it?

In the U.K., the Directorate of Airspace Policy is responsible for the policy, use and allocation of waypoint designators. They are designated as either strategic or tactical waypoints, depending on their position and function.

Strategic & tactical waypoints

. …deleted for brevity

So how come all the funky names?

Interestingly, the FAA document continues, “regional/service area office requests for specific five−letter names for radio fixes and waypoints should be avoided, but may be granted by AIM if feasible.” This leads me to believe that although the FAA doesn’t like fixes and waypoints having special names if a local authority has a special reason for doing so, the FAA will consider them.

However, judging by some of the waypoints out there, it appears that the FAA are more open to special names than the official line would suggest. So, what are some of the best ones?

San Francisco

Northern California is famous for many things, one of them being the wine-growing areas of the Sonoma and Napa valleys to the north of San Francisco. Flying in from the north, as we do from London, our route can take us via a number of wine-related waypoints such as MRRLO, LEGGS, MLBEC and CORKK.

San Francisco AT plate

San Jose

Just a few miles to the south, San Jose is the gateway to Silicon Valley and enjoys a number of fun-named waypoints. The initial descent brings you in over the same wine region as the San Francisco arrival, so the pilots get to fly a series of vino-related points. Starting at CHBLI, the arrival routes aircraft via GRIJO, ZININ and then CORKK. If coming in from the west, there’s very much a facial hair-related theme with the brilliantly named RAZRR 4 arrival taking aircraft via GYLET, STUBL, RAZRR, OUCHH, NIKKT and GOTEE.




The Disney magic starts well before arriving in Orlando. Well, for the pilots at least. This has to be one of my favorites, with seemingly as many Disney references shoehorned in as possible.

First up there’s the PIGLT 6 arrival. If there was a winner for the best series of waypoints, this would win by a country mile. Arriving from the north, the route starts with The Lion King taking us via HKUNA, MTATA and then on to Aladdin with JAZMN and JAFAR. It then jumps across to Winnie the Pooh with PIGLT before going back to The Lion King with RFIKI and back to Winnie the Pooh with TTIGR.



The waypoints into Pittsburgh were clearly named by a local sports fan. The FEWGA 6 arrival has pilots flying via PYRAT (the Pittsburgh baseball team is the Pirates) and LEMEW (local ice hockey hero and owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins team, Mario Lemieux). The sports theme doesn’t stop there. FLURY, MLKIN, GUINZ, CYDNY and CRSBY are all named after past or present Penguins players. [NOTE: FLURY is now in LAS. The waypoint stayed.




One of the busiest airports in the U.S., Houston George Bush Intercontinental provides pilots with some obvious hints to one of the main industries in the city. When arriving from the west, the DRLLR 5 arrival with a DIESL transition gives a clue as to what is about to come. DIESL, STOCK and FFUEL are then followed by PPUMP, PPIPE, DRLLR and PTROL. Coming in from the north, pilots will fly over REFYN and OILLL.


Houston Intercontinental


Another example—Bond Waypoint

Do you know the inspiration for this waypoint?

Do you have a favorite waypoint ? Enter it into the Comments section below.

airport codes

The Wacky Logic Behind Airport Codes

What is the meaning of airport codes? Rick Seaney explains.


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Sept. 22, 2010 — — Most of you fliers out there are familiar with JFKLAX and DFW — the airport codes for New York’s Kennedy, Los Angeles International and Dallas-Ft. Worth. But how many of you have flown to SUX?

Yes, SUX – the airport code for Sioux City, Iowa. Luckily, residents there have a sense of humor; instead of bemoaning their unfortunate appellation, they celebrate it: the airport’s website sells souvenirs including t-shirts and caps emblazoned with the bold SUX logo.Sioux City



It could be worse. It appears a kindergartner might have had a hand in picking some of these airport codes: Russia’s Bolshoye Savino Airport is stuck with the unlovely designation PEE, while Brazil’s Poco De Caldas Airport has to live with POO. Then there’s Rotorua, New Zealand ROT while Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base is just plain BAD.

Poco De Caldas Airport

Ever wonder how these codes came into being and what they mean? I’m going to tell you, plus I’ll give more examples of truly weird ones. Like FAT and GRR.

First things first: FAT is the airport code for Fresno, Calif. (and from what I understand, the locals aren’t crazy about it); and while GRR may sound like an anger management therapy center, it’s actually the code for Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Where do these codes come from?

The assignment of these codes is administered by the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association (IATA)  and the codes cover locations (mainly airports) around the globe.

A lot of these codes are no brainers: LGA stands for LaGuardia in New York, HOU is for Houston’s Hobby Airport and SLC is for Salt Lake City.

History of Airport Codes

But what about, say, LAX — where did that “X” come from? It goes back to the early days of passenger air travel when airports simply used the same two letter codes that the National Weather Service used for cities, never dreaming they’d ever need more letters for more combinations. When they did, some airports simply added an “X” to their name, and that’s why you have LAX or PHX for Phoenix.

But how to explain Chicago O’Hare’s ORD? For that I turned to the Sky God — pilot Dave English. A few years back, he wrote an excellent explanation piece for the Airline Pilots Association journal that tells the story of a now defunct community just west of Chicago called Orchard Place. In the 1940’s, it became the site of a military (and later, commercial) airport called Orchard Field, which was renamed for WW II ace Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare, in 1949. However, nobody bothered to change the original “Orchard” code designation of ORD.

O'Hare and Orchard Farm




Ever wonder why Orlando has the code of MCO? Hint: before it was the gateway to theme parks, it was McCoy Air Force Base.

History buffs might have been able to solve those little mysteries eventually, but try explaining these two Tennessee puzzlers: Nashville’s airport code of BNA and Knoxville’s TYS designation.

The “B” iBNA stands for Berry — Col. Harry Berry, to be precise, who headed the state’s Works Progress Administration during the Depression when the airport was built. The facility was named for the colonel in 1937. The “NA” in BNA simply stands for Nashville.

As for the Knoxville airport, it was built on land donated by a wealthy resident name Bettie Tyson. She asked that the new facility be named for her only son Charlie, who was killed in action during WWI when his plane went down off the English coast. Even though Lt. Tyson died more than ninety years ago, his name lives on at TYS.

Origin of Three-Letter Airport Codes

But if you really want to see a lot of great airport codes, head to Alaska. The word transportation pretty much means flying for a lot of folks there, since the state itself notes that 82 percent of Alaska’s communities are not served by roads. Mind-boggling, huh?

So, they fly. And while Alaska has big airports like Ted Stevens International in Anchorage (ANC), the state’s Department of Transportation & Public Facilities also owns 253 rural airports — many of them one-runway affairs with landing strips made of dirt or gravel. And great code names.

Alaskan Network of state-owned airports

Like EEK, a fitting code for the little community of Eek in western Alaska. Then there’s WOW for WillowGNU for Goodnews Bay and UNK for Unalakleet Airport.

Willow Alaska

Now let’s look at tiny Chicken, Alaska (according to its folksy website, the population is “usually between 17 and 37, depending on who you ask.”) You might expect its graveled-runway to proudly boast the CHK code, but alas, Chickasha Municipal Airport in Okla. was already using that one, so Chicken settled for CKX (remember those “X’s”). And forget FWL; Farewell, Alaska already had dibs on that.

Back to the lower 48 and another mystery: why is Cincinnati called CVG and not CIN? Well for one thing, CIN belongs to the municipal airport in Carroll, Iowa. For another, Cincinnati’s airport is not actually in Cincinnati, or in Ohio, for that matter; it’s across the river near Covington, Ky. Get it? Covington = CVG (I can hear the groans now).

I could go on and on, listing my favorites, like Harbour (Eolie Island) Airport in Italy (ZIP) or the airport near Dumai, Indonesia (DUM) not to mention HIP (Headingly, Australia) and HOT (Hot Springs, Ark.) or Norway’s Bodo Airport (BOO) or…well, as noted, I could go on.

Fair warning; if I ever ask you to play a friendly game of “guess-the-airport-code”, better put your hand on your wallet. I’m pretty good, or, you might say I’m AOK (airport code for Karpathos, Greece).





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  1. If you are a Colorado snowboard fan check out the KBJC GPS RWY 12L Approach

  2. Sandy Murdock | June 14, 2021 at 2:13 pm | Reply

    Bryan–THANKS, great example.

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