A small general aviation airport on an island near downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, has captured the hearts of local community members, volunteers, and pilots who are banding together to improve it.
The non-profit Friends of Downtown Island Airport, also known as Friends of the Island, formed in late 2022 to aid the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority in airport development.
“It has a pretty simple mission, our group will do anything we can to help the local airport authority improve this amazing GA airport,” said Scott Brun, a board member of the organization.
“We have this quaint little airport that’s on an island; and because it’s on an island, it will never get any bigger. That’s part of its charm,” he said. “The airport is five minutes from downtown Knoxville, right on the river—a spectacular spot where there is so much potential to benefit the entire community.”
The airport authority operates Downtown Island Airport (KDKX) as a GA airport, as well as McGhee Tyson Airport (KTYS), which serves numerous major airlines. According to Brun, much of the authority’s focus has been put towards the latter airport, which offers domestic airline service and provides a larger economic impact to the city.
The ‘friends’ of the island airport know that the potential of their beloved airport is nearly limitless, he said.
“Our local airport authority has done a fantastic job over the years, putting together a terrific FBO staff and implementing occasional capital improvements such as the recent runway rehabilitation project,” Brun said. “What our group thinks about, is how we can build on that? Can we raise money for a playground? Can we hold STEM classes? Can we tap into our aviation contact lists and bring in champion aerobatic performer Mike Goulian, for example, to give a talk to raise awareness? We want to help the airport authority in any way we can, making the island appealing to not just the general aviation community, but also local residents.”
The airport is also an access point to recreational activities in the area, he added.
“This airport is located adjacent to a greenway that connects Ijams Nature Center, which is a huge nature park. It has miles of hiking and mountain bike trails, as well as other outdoor activities. And of course, it is an island so that means there are a lot of water sport activities to take advantage of,” Brun said. “The point being is that while our organization is mostly about aviation, we’re also dialed in on outdoor recreational activities non-pilots can also benefit from – such as kayaking, paddle boarding, trail running, mountain biking.”
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is close by, too.
“We look at our airport as an access point to that, too, similar to how Bentonville is the access point to Northwest Arkansas and the Ozarks,” Brun said.
“We have our mission statement on our website, and you’ll see that we have three buckets. First, we want to be respectful and work with the neighborhood that’s next door to the airport. Second, is our passion for outdoor activities and how we connect the community to those natural assets. And then our third focus is STEM education. How do we get young adults involved in the aviation industry, an area that is desperate for talented employees?”
The airport’s location is attractive not only for what’s currently nearby, but also for what’s anticipated to be there in the future.
“The airport is on the south Knoxville waterfront, which is directly across the river from the city center. This area is being redeveloped, reinvigorated, and is the place right now where everyone wants to visit, live, and recreate. This area is the access point to the airport, so we are working with the city to see how we can be involved in those plans.”
Brun, who is a media consultant, is focused on telling the unknown stories about the airport. “Many people have no idea a meticulously maintained World War II-era airplane is based here,” he said. “They probably don’t know that a world-class adventure skydiver and his aviator husband fly in and out of the airport. And they would be amazed that a 16-year-old female pilot who is wise beyond her years, took her first solo flight here. It’s these types of stories that we think will show Knoxville and the world what an important place Downtown Island Airport really is.”