Knoxville McGhee Tyson Airport: Air travel is booming

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Last year, the McGhee Tyson Airport, sought by many for business or travel to the Smokies, hit a record 2,221,127 passengers. So far this year, they’re up 12% from last year, putting them on track to break the record again.

With 35 consecutive months of growth in airline passengers, Jim Evans, marketing vice president for the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, said they’re making many changes to prepare for the future.

“We have more service at this airport for a community our size than pretty much everywhere else. It has to do with East Tennessee economy. We’re doing quite well as a region,” he said. 

Evans also touted the fact that TYS has more non-stop destinations than most airports of similar size. Despite having 23 non-stop airports and five airlines to choose from, he said they still lose about 10-15% of potential traffic to surrounding airports, including Nashville and Atlanta. 

TYS sees 126 flights daily, on average. The three most popular destinations for people flying from TYS are Orlando, New York City and Fort Lauderdale. 

Allegiant Impact 

Since their base opened in November 2018, Evans said flights have increased by 20%. They have more than 100 Allegiant employees stationed at TYS and two 177-seat A3-20s airplanes housed and serviced there. 

New to TYS

  • Allegiant 
    • Begins flying to Pittsburgh beginning Friday, May 17 
    • Denver, Coorado, beginning May 21
    • Two weekly flights to Baltimore, Maryland, beginning May 17
    • Three weekly to Destin, Florida, to resume May 16
  • American Airlines 
    • Two daily flights to Miami 
    • Two daily flights to NYC 

What does this mean for you

Airline ticket sales go up 31% in the summer months. That may mean a longer wait time for you to get checked-in or fewer parking spaces for you to choose from.

Patrick Wilson, president of the Metro Knoxville Airport Authority, explained the growth presents benefits for passengers. For instance, if there is a demand for more flights out of TYS, there is more flexibility in scheduling for air travelers. He also credited their growth in flights to the thriving regional economy.

Airport officials recommend arriving at least two hours prior to your flight time to make sure you’re parked and cleared by TSA agents. If you’re traveling internationally, they recommend you arrive 2 1/2 hours early.

What TYS is doing

In 2018, 3,565 different cars and trucks sat in a parking space. Wilson said by the end of June, they’ll complete adding 450 economy parking spaces. They also plan to begin construction in August on a fourth lane for TSA to check passengers in and cut down on the long lines.

Airport spokesperson Becky Huckaby said: “Having the right infrastructure in place to accommodate the growth that we’re experiencing and to remain attractive to the airlines that serve our market and those who are considering us, that’s the key to a lot going on at our airport right now.”

The airport also encourages people to take advantage of TSA’s Pre-Check program. 

Today, there are three parking options if you want to fly from TYS: three to four-day parking, long-term, which fills up the quickest, and the economy lot. Airport officials advise passengers to arrive early, especially considering on peak travel days it could take you an additional 10 minutes to find a parking spot.

Airport officials say they’ve also added extra customer service agents, to make sure people are pre-checked and have the things prepared ahead of time before reaching a TSA agent, to speed up the process. 

TYS also gave an update on their new, 10,000-foot long runway. Work began in 2015 to replace their existing more than 50-year-old runway following a report showed most of the concrete decks needed replacing. 

The runway the airport is currently using can handle a plane of any size, but the new runway can handle heavier planes. This allows them to travel further, with more fuel or travel with more people. Crews began work on the existing runway in 2015 and work is expected to wrap-up toward the end of 2021. 

McGhee Tyson by the numbers

* 5 airlines

* 126 daily flights

* 23 nonstop airports

* 2.2 million passengers last year

* 3,565 parking spaces last year

* 2018: best year ever 2,221,127 passengers

* 2019 up 12% right now, set to break the record again

* 35 consecutive months of airline passenger growth

Airline passenger shares

* Delta: 31%

* American: 29%

* United:16%

* Allegiant: 21%

Coming soon

Allegiant: Starts serving Pittsburgh Friday,  Denver on May 21, Baltimore two weekly flights resume Friday, Destin, Fla., three weekly flights resume Thursday. 

American Airlines: Two daily flights to Miami now and two daily flights to NYC. American is bringing big jets back June 7, 124-seat Airbus A3-19.

Future construction

* 450 new economy parking lot spaces to be completed by June.

* Construction starts in August on fourth TSA lane to cut down wait times.

McGhee Tyson advisers travelers to start arriving at least two hours before flight departures, especially in peak summer months.

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