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Airport – Aerodrome – Airfield – What’s the difference?

First attempt to fly the manned Langley Aerodrome.
First attempt to fly the manned Langley Aerodrome, October 7, 1903

This month’s word is actually several words relating to the same place. Did you know that an aerodrome was first used as the name for an aircraft? Samuel Langley, an unsuccessful aviation pioneer, coined the term “aerodrome” after “hippodrome”, the latter meaning a course or race for horses. Greek chariot races were held in a hippodrome. Langley decided to call his aircraft the Langley Aerodrome, and then Alexander Graham Bell adopted the term for his Aerial Experiment Association aircraft. In 1909, Silver Dart - the first Canadian aircraft to fly was called Aerodrome 4.

It was later that “aerodrome” began to be used as the name for a place to land and take off. The word “airport” implies a higher status than “aerodrome”. The Aeronautics Act R.S. 1985 states, “…for the most part, all of Canada can be an aerodrome”; however, there are also “registered aerodromes” and “certified airports”. For a place to become a registered aerodrome, the operator must maintain certain standards and keep the Canadian Minister of Transport informed of any changes. To be certified as an airport, the aerodrome, which usually supports commercial operations, must meet safety standards.

Which only leaves “airfield”, “landing strip” and “airdrome”. The latter was apparently used in the United States until the Second World War, after which time it fell into disuse. In Canada, “airfield” and “aerodrome” are synonymous.  Of course a “landing strip” refers to the landing area rather than the whole facility, however large or small. That is, unless you’re from Toronto, where it means an establishment close to the airport with dancing girls!


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