Knoxville Airport’s passenger count breaks a record

Nearly 2 million passengers came through Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport last year, a record number which airport board chairman Eddie Mannis credits largely to the region’s growth and continued strong economy.

“That is a huge milestone for us,” he said.

In 2017 the airport handled 1,988,019 passengers, beating 2005’s record by 142,528, according to a news release from the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority. That’s the most in the airport’s 80-year history.

Passenger totals were up 9 percent over 2016, and nearly four out of five seats were full on flights to and from Knoxville.

Passenger numbers set monthly records for each of 2017’s last eight months, according to the news release. October was the busiest month, with 200,330 passengers. That’s nearly 6,500 per day.

“I think that it shows that Knoxville and this region is really starting to grow, from an economic impact standpoint,” Mannis said.

Airport officials announced the numbers Wednesday morning at a news conference in the terminal, speaking to a handful of media and airport workers as a few passengers strolled by.

Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier and United airlines serve McGhee Tyson. In the past year Frontier added service to Orlando International Airport, while Allegiant added service to Destin, Florida, and Baltimore/Washington, D.C. United added more flights to its existing service to Denver and Newark.

McGhee Tyson’s future plans

The 80-year-old airport is “always talking to airlines” about adding service – either new carriers or new destinations – but no new service is currently under specific discussion, Mannis said.

Becky Huckaby, airport board vice president of public relations, said the airport will do things throughout this year to thank passengers and airport tenants. Some of those events and promotions will be run through the airport’s new website,

One plan is to expand the airport’s display of permanent public art from local artists, Mannis said. That effort should launch by the end of 2018, he said. The passenger record comes as the airport is in the middle of rebuilding and lengthening its runways. Expected to cost $108 million, including associated work such as new lights and markings, the project aims to make it easier for larger long-haul jets. That should make McGhee Tyson more attractive to airlines offering additional destinations, according to airport officials.

Much of the funding is expected from the federal government, with some from the state aeronautics fund; and more from the Tennessee Air National Guard. The Air Guard’s 134th Air Refueling Wing operates Boeing KC-135 tankers from the field, which need 10,000 feet of runway to take off when fully loaded.

The runway work is expected to be finished on schedule in 2021, Mannis said.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines

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Published January 31, 2018