AirTran to stop passenger service to Knoxville in June

AirTran to stop passenger service to Knoxville in June

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - AirTran Airways said Friday it would stop flights to and from five U.S. airports in June, including Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Airport.

The airline said in a statement it will cease operations in the five markets because "of the realities of the challenging economic environment and sustained high fuel prices."

The other airports losing AirTran service are Miami International, Central Illinois Regional Airport/Bloomington/Normal, Ill., Charleston, W.Va. Yeager Airport, and Dulles International.  

AirTran provides one daily nonstop flight between Orlando and Knoxville through a contracted partner, so no AirTran employees work at McGhee Tyson.

The low-cost carrier became a wholly owned subsidiary of Southwest Airlines in May.

"We have been concerned that it would be a challenge to keep AirTran Airways in our market following their acquisition by Southwest Airlines because of the uncertainties involved with the merger of two airlines," Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority President William Marrison said in a statement released late Friday. "We responded with an aggressive air service campaign including tourism studies, site visits and community partnerships with corporations and organizations like East Tennesseans for Airfare Competition (ETAC) that would guarantee their success. It seems that the issues that are out of our control outweighed the benefits within our control."

The move raised hopes among airport officials and travelers that Southwest would begin service to McGhee Tyson. That has not materialized.

Marrison tried to put a positive face on AirTran's announcement.

"We will not let today's announcement deter our efforts to bring additional low fares to McGhee Tyson Airport," he said. "We have a good story to tell and we will continue to work closely with all airlines, including Southwest, to bring East Tennesseans affordable air service."

This is the second time AirTran has stopped service to McGhee Tyson. The airline first began service in 1994, but stopped flying to Knoxville in 2000.

Service was resumed in June 2009.

Vision Airlines, another low-cost carrier, suspended service to Knoxville in August. The airline said it might return on a seasonal basis.

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