We investigate combined continuum removal and radiative transfer (RT) modeling to retrieve leaf chlorophyll a & b content (Cab) from the AISA Eagle airborne imaging spectrometer data of sub-meter (0.4 m) spatial resolution. Based on coupled PROSPECT-DART RT simulations of a Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) stand, we propose a new Cab sensitive index located between 650 and 720 nm and termed ANCB650-720. The performance of ANCB650-720 was validated against ground-measured Cab of ten spruce crowns and compared with Cab estimated by a conventional artificial neural network (ANN) trained with continuum removed RT simulations and also by three previously published chlorophyll optical indices: normalized difference between reflectance at 925 and 710 nm (ND925&710), simple reflectance ratio between 750 and 710 nm (SR750/710) and the ratio of TCARI/OSAVI indices. Although all retrieval methods produced visually comparable Cab spatial patterns, the ground validation revealed that the ANCB650-720 and ANN retrievals are more accurate than the other three chlorophyll indices (R2 = 0.72 for both methods). ANCB650-720 estimated Cab with an RMSE = 2.27 μg cm− 2 (relative RRMSE = 4.35%) and ANN with an RMSE = 2.18 μg cm− 2 (RRMSE = 4.18%), while SR750/710 with an RMSE = 4.16 μg cm− 2 (RRMSE = 7.97%), ND925&710 with an RMSE = 9.07 μg cm− 2 (RRMSE = 17.38%) and TCARI/OSAVI with an RMSE = 12.30 μg cm− 2 (RRMSE = 23.56%). Also the systematic RMSES was lower than the unsystematic one only for the ANCB650-720 and ANN retrievals. Our results indicate that the newly proposed index can provide the same accuracy as ANN except for Cab values below 30 μg cm− 2, which are slightly overestimated (RMSE = 2.42 μg cm− 2). The computationally efficient ANCB650-720 retrieval provides accurate high spatial resolution airborne Cab maps, considerable as a suitable reference data for validating satellite-based Cab products.