Knoxville airfares still high — but improving

060711frontier5_MC15087.JPGKnoxville was included today in a Wall Street Journal report on cities with the highest average airfares. Probably not surprising to metro area business travelers.

Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport has the eighth highest average ticket price in the country, according to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation. It’s not the kind of publicity McGhee Tyson officials like, but spokeswoman Becky Huckabee said the No. 8 ranking represents improvement.

A year ago, Knoxville had the third-highest average airfare, according to the transportation bureau. She expects Knoxville to slide further down the rankings next year with “the addition of Frontier Airlines and US Airways lower prices to Washington, D.C.”

Frontier started Knoxville to Denver service in June and its fares were not included in the 2011 first quarter calculations. In July, US Airways announced a temporary 40 percent cut in high-demand tickets for Knoxville to D.C. flights.

Knoxville ‘s average fare for the 2011 first quarter was $449, up slightly from the 2010 first quarter.

Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport had the highest ticket prices in the 2011 first quarter with an average fare of $477.

The Wall Street Journal report cites the lack of low-fare competition and major carrier dominance at hub airports as the major influences on ticket prices. The Journal groups Knoxville with Huntsville, Ala. and Charleston, S.C. among smaller cities with little competition.

WSJ: Why It Costs So Much to Fly From These Airports

Transportation Bureau: 1st-Quarter 2011 Domestic Air Fares Rose 8.4% from 1st Quarter 2010

Photo: In this June 7, 2011 photo a ground crew looks on from the edge of the runway as the inaugural Frontier Airlines flight from Knoxville-to-Denver takes off. (Knoxville News Sentinel/ J. Miles Cary)