American vying for China flight

GULFPORT - American Airlines is out trying to drum up support for a new route from Dallas-Fort Worth to China in a competition to provide service beginning next year.

Four airlines are vying to add the route, and American's pitch is that it will expand areas with easy access to China.

"We believe we offer the best opportunity for more people to get to China than ever before if we can have this new route from Dallas-Forth Worth," spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan told the Sun Herald on Friday. "There is nothing in the South and the Southwest that allows you to get to China."

The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to announce the winner by the end of the year. Airlines are touting support from representatives, congressmen, governors and airport officials, even turning to Internet petition drives to help sway the decision in their favor.

Continental's pitch is that its flight from Newark would serve the New York City area. Northwest would fly from Detroit, linking auto industry types and providing easier service for more airports than the other airlines.

United wants a Washington, D.C., to Beijing route as a link between the governments.

American said a flight from Dallas-Fort Worth would provide one-stop service to Beijing to 30 airports for the first time and 95 in all.

Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, which has endorsed American's efforts, wouldn't be considered to have one-stop service because its two current flights to Dallas-Fort Worth wouldn't fit that China route's timetable.

The departing flights flew at 62.0 percent capacity in September, traditionally a slow month for airline demand. For the year, the airline has had a 76.7 percent load factor.

Gulfport-Biloxi officials are pitching a third round-trip flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, which they said would make American more convenient for business travelers. The current flights arrive at 10:10 a.m. and 3:55 p.m., departing 25 minutes later.

Fagan pointed out service here is provided by American Eagle, its regional carrier. She gave examples of two similar airports that have had different luck with expanding service.

Mobile started on the same path with two departures per day in June 2005, added a third flight in November 2005 and is hopeful of adding a Chicago flight soon.

Fagan said Columbia, S.C., got non-stop service to Chicago in September, but it's already being pulled in January because the market didn't support it.