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'The very best of Knoxville'

Pilots in Tennessee have started an organization dedicated to enhancing recreation and aviation at Knoxville Downtown Island Airport while encouraging the community and city to join them in reinvesting and re-visioning the future of the airport.

Knoxville Downtown Island Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Downtown Island Airport.

Friends of Downtown Island Airport (FODIA) has a mission to work with surrounding neighborhoods toward ideas that benefit all, connect the airport with other community sustainable assets, and support STEM-focused youth activities for the future of aviation. The group’s existence stems from the desire to make the airport more than just a place for aircraft and pilots.

“This airport is an incredibly special place that shows off the very best of Knoxville. It is on an island surrounded by a river where on any given day you’ll see people paddling, fishing, swimming, and generally enjoying the water,” said Ivy McIver, president of FODIA and executive director of the SR product line at Cirrus Aircraft. The vibrant airport is an integral part of the Knoxville aviation community and is home to several flight schools and aviation clubs.

While Downtown Island Airport is not as well-known as nearby Mc Ghee Tyson Airport, FODIA hopes to maximize the potential of the airport and make it an attractive destination for pilots to visit by opening Downtown Island and its benefits to the nonflying community in Knoxville.

“The aviation community is full of interesting characters eager to share their passion with others and invite you to learn more about this incredible asset that we in Knoxville are fortunate to have in our backyard,” said McIver.

In a series of background character stories, three pilots based at the island airport shared their experiences. Wes Stowers, a U.S. Air Force veteran and 1943 North American T-6 Texan owner, flies in and out of Downtown Island—the same airport where he took his first flying lesson in 1972.

Friends of Downtown Island Airport volunteers met community members on April 15 at the airport's spring open house. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Downtown Island Airport.

“Downtown Island is one of the most beautiful airports in this part of the state,” said Stowers. “I never get tired of sightseeing around here. You can take off and in two minutes be over Neyland Stadium, you can be over the Smokies in about five. It’s a beautiful place to fly.”

On April 15 the airport had a ribbon cutting for the completion of a runway rehabilitation project—a $10 million undertaking that updated taxiways, lighting, and electrical work. AOPA was present at the ceremony, having served as a sounding board for FODIA’s founding, and FODIA was on-site engaging with pilots and community members, celebrating the rehabilitation project, and advocating for continued renewed vision to help connect the community with the airport and garner additional investments.

As a 501(c)(3) organization FODIA relies on donations from the community to help raise awareness about the airport and help fund various informational and educational events. “By collaborating with other local organizations, we can leverage each other to further incorporate the airport into the community fabric that makes Knoxville such a great place to live and visit,” said McIver.

The story at Downtown Island Airport is a story found at many general aviation airports around the country, and FODIA can act as a model for what other pilots can aspire to achieve at their GA airports. McIver says that bringing the community into the conversation is vital for securing the future of the airport. “It has been essential to listen to our neighbors and understand what vision they have for the airport,” she said. “Work with community business associations, neighborhood leaders, other organizations with similar missions, and the city has also been strategically important to gain momentum and community-wide support for airport improvements and enhancements.”

Lillian Geil

Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy

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