Smokies fueling increased travel at McGhee Tyson Airport

The number of air travelers at the airport has rebounded, but not quite to the record of 2019.
The number of air travelers at the airport has rebounded, but not quite to the record of 2019.
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 3:12 PM EDT|Updated: May. 13, 2022 at 10:01 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - It’s an industry that came to a stop at the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, with planes grounded and crews sent home with out a job. Now air travel is coming back, and Knoxville is one of the locations with high demand.

It was 2019 when McGhee Tyson Airport saw the most people fly, now since the 2020 shut down of air travel there’s been a strong return to air travel.

In what Jim Evans with the airport calls, ‘a strong return,’ he’s also noticed a difference in who is flying.

“People from Phoenix, Denver, Austin Texas, that would love to come experience the Smokies in east Tennessee. It’s a long car ride for those folks. So having the ability to get on a low fare nonstop flight certainly gives them a new alternative and they need a way to get in here rather than a 12 or 18 hour more or more car ride,” said Evans.

He told The Pigeon Forge Hospitality and Tourism Association on Thursday that travel has opened up a whole new avenue to grow tourism in the Smokies.

He added that as low cost carriers, like Allegiant have notice the growth they’ve added flights. Allegiant now has 18 non-stop destinations with a direct link to the great Smoky Mountains.

Evans says other carriers have noticed the demand for the Knoxville market. He believes as the industry rebounds other carriers will notice Knoxville.

“I think there’s a very good chance that someday they will be here. The timing is not right right now. But rest assured we spend a lot of time talking with Southwest Airlines,” He added.

Nearly 2 million people used the airport last year, which has left airlines are struggling to keep up with staff and planes.

“A demand came roaring back a little bit quicker than I think anyone thought that it would on the in the air industry so they need more employees. They need more airplanes right now but in the bank in the backdrop of that they’re also facing record high fuel prices,” he said.

Evans does not believe air travel with surpass the number of people who drive to the Smokies, but will increase as carriers add more non-stop flights.

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