Southwest Airlines Co. today announced that it will provide service out of Des Moines International Airport.

Des Moines is currently served by AirTran Airways, which was acquired by Southwest in May. Southwest will convert the AirTran service into Southwest routes. AirTran currently operates two daily round-trip flights between Des Moines and Milwaukee. 

The move gives Des Moines a low-cost carrier that officials say will help bring down airfares.

"It certainly changes the air service game in this city," said Don Smithey, aviation director at Des Moines International Airport. "I've been through this before with Southwest, having had a long relationship with them, and I can tell you, it's a great thing.

"It probably will change the way things have taken place over the years and adds an element of service the public has been wanting for quite some time."

Southwest hasn't released a timeline as to when Des Moines' AirTran service will convert to Southwest. Smithey said a timeline is hard to pinpoint, but that he expects future service additions from Southwest in addition to the current service to Milwaukee. 

"We'll see other things unfold with Southwest later in the year," he said. 

Gov. Terry Branstad said in a news release that Southwest coming to Des Moines is "a great day for Iowa." 

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said in the release that the move will make airfares in Des Moines less expensive and more competitive with those at surrounding metro airports.

In a September Business Record story, Smithey said he viewed Southwest as the best possibility to curtail rising average ticket prices at the airport.

Smithey was the former executive director of Omaha’s Eppley Airfield, which lured Southwest to town in 1995.

When Southwest went to Omaha in 1995, the average ticket price for the airport dropped from $328.97 to $250.86, and then down to $222.68 the following year, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prices have been lower than the national average every year but one since.

Airfares in Des Moines have been higher than the national average every year during the same time frame, sometimes by as much as $70.

Smithey said he has been in contact with Southwest officials since he started in Des Moines, and has joined Branstad and others in highlighting the advantages of adding service in the city.

"The main thing that we had to show them is we've got a market here that can sustain their investment," Smithey said. "They're not going to come here on the strength of my personality. We have been able to show them where they, hopefully, can make money, that there is a market in Des Moines, that it's underserved, and it's overpriced. Therefore, this is an opportunity for them."

For more information from a Southwest Airlines news release, click here.