Southwest Airlines Focused on Starting Charlotte Flights

Southwest Airlines is focused on starting service in Charlotte, Chairman Herb Kelleher said Tuesday -- but he wouldn't be nailed down on a time frame.

"We recognize that Charlotte is a very desirable city to serve," Kelleher said during a visit. "I can't make any immediate promises, but certainly I can tell you our focus is on Charlotte."

If US Airways were to fold, however, Southwest would likely move quickly, Kelleher said, to fill the void left by the airline at its busiest hub.

The low-cost carrier, considered one of the nation's most successful airlines, has already made inroads at US Airways-dominated Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Some analysts expect Charlotte to be next.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in January that Charlotte remains under consideration. The airline would likely bring lower fares to select destinations, as well as stiffer competition for struggling US Airways.

Kelleher said the pending arrival in May of low-cost AirTran into Charlotte wouldn't change Southwest's plans. "That's not something that would block us from coming in," he said.

Kelleher was in Charlotte for a meeting of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which includes business and government leaders from across the country.

Kelleher, considered something of a business maverick -- he's been known to dress as Elvis at company parties -- said he was impressed by Charlotte.

He and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, serving as co-chairs of a subcommittee and sitting together at the advisory council meeting, certainly joked and laughed like two men who could do business together.

Kelleher especially liked his trip to Lowe's Motor Speedway, where he zoomed around the track at up to 185 mph in the passenger seat of a race car.

His only regret: He's used to being the one in the driver's seat.

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