Why Malaga Airport is known by the code AGP

Passengers queue to check in at Malaga Airport, AGP.
Passengers queue to check in at Malaga Airport, AGP. / FRANCIS SILVA
  • There are urban legends involving Picasso and a Roman empress, but the real reason is surprisingly dull in comparison

Anyone who has travelled to several international airports will have realised that the airport codes tend to be based on the letters of the city's name: Madrid is MAD, Barcelona is BCN, Brussels is BRU, and so on.

Travellers arriving in Malaga then find it very odd that the airport code is AGP, as this goes completely against the usual logic.

Not even the most brilliant scientists or academics could associate those three letters with the city of Malaga unless they had known about it beforehand.

However locals seem to have become accustomed to the abbreviation, or at least resigned to it, and although there have been petitions to change the code, they have never really amounted to much.

The story of Spain's fourth largest airport is little known. When the International Air Transport Association (IATA) went to give the airport its code, it found that combinations similar to those that would derive from Malaga were already taken by other airports: MLG belonged to Malange, Indonesia; MAL refers to Mangole, also in Indonesia; MGA refers to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua; and even MAG, which would still be very recognisable, had already been assigned to Madang in Papua New Guinea.

Instead, experts at the IATA decided to take two letters from the city's name, “AG” and add a third letter to create a completely different code in order to prevent confusion with other international airports.

Out of all the possible combinations, the letter that was found to create a code that fulfilled all the criteria was “P”.

It comes as no surprise therefore that the more colourful urban legends about the origins of the code are more popular than the truth.

One suggests that AGP stands for Aeropuerto Gran Picasso and another that the airport is named after the Roman empress Agrippina: interesting, but wrong.

It wasn't until June 2011 that Malaga Airport became officially known as Aeropuerto de Málaga-Costa del Sol, so combinations derived from this name would not have been considered by IATA at the time, even if they had been available.