Introducing ICAO’s Aircraft Type Designator on-line website

The international civil aviation network carries over four billion passengers around the world annually. In celebrating ICAO's 75th Anniversary Celebrations, we will be highlighting some of the crucial safety achievements that have enabled this. We hope you follow our series throughout the year, and we encourage you to use the #ICAO75 hashtag to share your thoughts and memories with us through social media.

One important aviation innovation developed by ICAO that has had an impact on the enhancement of aviation safety, involves the development of the searchable on-line ICAO website for aircraft type designators.

For those who need to file a flight plan, the ICAO Aircraft Type Designator (Doc 8643) online website provides a tool for looking up designators for aircraft types and models.

This website, that is continuously updated, identifies the aircraft types commonly provided with air traffic services (ATS). The database is searchable using the common names of aircraft manufacturers, their models and type designators. The database also includes additional information: descriptions of specific models, engine types and counts, as well as the wake turbulence category (WTC). Access to this website is free-of-charge and offers users the ability to search and print out the information they require in a tab-separated text format.

The Aircraft Type Designator database was originally developed following the recommendations of the Rules of the Air and Air Traffic Services/Operations Divisional Meeting (in May 1963) and the Third Meeting of the Air Traffic Control Automation Panel (October 1963), and was published following the approval of the ICAO Council.

In 1996 a major revision of the document was undertaken as a result of the substantial comments received from air traffic service units (the most common operational users of designators) and ICAO’s Secretariat, with assistance from Air Traffic Control the Netherlands and the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL). The revision was carried out with the aim of ensuring that the document would satisfy its original purpose and was amended to accommodate the increased use of automation in ATS and as a data exchange.

The ICAO aircraft type designator is a two-, three- or four-character alphanumeric code designating every aircraft type (and some sub-types) that may appear in flight planning. These codes are defined by ICAO, and published in ICAO’s Aircraft Type Designators  (Doc 8643). ICAO codes are used by air traffic control and airline operations in flight planning.  Arising from demands by the aviation industry for timely up-to-date information, this searchable website instantly provides accurate aircraft type designator information.

With over ten thousand different aircraft types designators and over fifteen hundred different aircraft manufacturers in the current Doc 8643 database, the website allows air traffic controllers, commercial and private pilots to identify the correct ICAO aircraft type designator to use when filing a flight plan.

It is important to note that according to the ICAO publication for the Procedures of Air Navigation Services: Air Traffic Management (PANS-ATM) (Doc 4444), specifically Appendix 2 concerning Flight plans, item 9 outlines the number and type of aircraft and wake turbulence category that must be used when filing a flight plan. The information concerning the type of aircraft and the appropriate designator to use can also be found in (Doc 8643).

About the author

Steven Laskie is the Air Navigation Planning and Support Officer in the Operational Safety Section of the Air Navigation Bureau of ICAO with over 26 years of experience in the field of Civil Aviation.