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From the Knoxville - Oak Ridge | Innovation Valley Guide

A Low-Fare Solution

Partnership raises funds to attract additional low-fare service to Knoxville.


Knoxville is within a day’s drive of 60 percent of the US population. If the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley partnership has its way, Knoxville will soon become a lot more accessible by air.

The Competitive Airfare Partnership, a public-private coalition spearheaded by Innovation Valley, has raised $2.2 million in an effort to recruit a low-fare air carrier to Knoxville.

“Knoxville airfares are expensive,” says Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development for the Knoxville Chamber. “This initiative was launched two years ago to raise $3 million to incentivize low-cost carriers to serve Knoxville. So far, 46 partners have come together to raise $2.2 million. We are making the business case to take to the airlines.”

The effort marks the first time a regional partnership approach has been taken to recruit low-fare carriers to McGhee Tyson Airport. Partners backing the plan include the City of Knoxville, Blount County, Knox County, Sevier County, Visit Knoxville and The Roane Alliance.

“We are working with the tourism sector and the business community. Both have a legitimate case to make this happen,” says Lawyer. “Knox County alone put in $400,000 toward this effort.”

Lawyer notes that the business case for attracting a low-cost carrier is solid:

  • The 852,000-resident Knoxville region has the population and tourism volume to support and sustain increased low-fare service at McGhee Tyson.
  • Low fares have proven in comparable communities to stimulate growth in the region and directly impact the bottom line for both business and leisure travelers.
  • Knoxville’s peer markets, such as Greenville and Charleston in South Carolina, have recently acquired low-fare carriers like JetBlue and Southwest using a regional approach like CAP.
  • Recent passenger leakage studies show that about 20 percent of Knoxville-area travelers are using other airports for their boarding points.
  • Lower fares will stimulate the market by 10 to 20 percent, adding another 200 to 400 passengers each day.
Another study recently revealed that Knoxville airfares are the eighth highest in the nation among the country’s 100 largest airports.

Since adding low-fare carriers, both Greenville and Charleston have experienced significant passenger increases. Greenville’s annual passenger volume is up 550,000, while Charleston’s is up 500,000.

“It is time to make this happen,” Lawyer says.

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