Downtown Island Airport was established in 1930. In July 1934, American Airlines established a mail route that stopped at Island Airport. Passenger service from Knoxville to Washington D.C. was also offered on two daily flights on planes that carried up to eight passengers. Regular airline service to Knoxville was initiated on January 15, 1936.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the airport site was used both for aviation and farming. In 1943, the airport was used for wartime training of 300 Army Air Cadets. After the training program ended, operations resumed as a private airport and farm.

The airport became a public aviation facility in 1963 under the ownership of the City of Knoxville. In 1978 it was transferred to the ownership of Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, its current owner and operator.