updated 12/17/2008 7:12:29 PM ET 2008-12-18T00:12:29

Southwest Airlines Co. may add flights to a third new major U.S. airport as early as next fall, as the low-cost carrier shifts its traditional focus on less-trafficked, secondary airports.

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In an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Chief Executive Gary Kelly said there are "decent odds" the Dallas-based carrier will look to add flights to a new major U.S. airport next year, following the addition of Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York's LaGuardia Airport. Previously, the airline's business plan has mostly focused on secondary airports, such as Chicago's Midway.

Kelly said there is a misconception among some observers who consider Southwest a small-market player because of it flies mainly to those airports.

"We serve big markets and we will continue to look for that," Kelly said.

The carrier expects to begin service at Minneapolis in March, and is currently negotiating for gate locations at New York's LaGuardia, Kelly said. The carrier expects to begin flights out of LaGuardia this summer. Southwest obtained 14 takeoff and landing slots from bankrupt ATA Airlines earlier this month.

Southwest will look for efficiency as a top priority in researching new airports, Kelly said, as the carrier underlines the focus on on-time performance and cost management.

"Efficiency at the airport is the key, and when we find that — that will be the sweet spot."

Kelly underscored that the company will be prudent in coming in to new airports, as it cuts flights in other regions to reign in costs and mitigate slumping demand.

"We want to continue to grow customers and to grow routes while adjusting to the realities of the world," he said.

Although the airline remains focused on its U.S. routes, Kelly said the company is looking to secure codeshare partners — an alliance in which airlines agree to sell seats on each other's flights — for Hawaii and the Caribbean. It has already formed similar alliances with WestJet in Canada and Volaris in Mexico.

Kelly added the carrier "would love to have a codeshare in Europe or Asia, but no work in under way" for partnerships in those regions.

"We have slowed our growth dramatically this year, and just in time," Kelly said, referring to the frozen credit markets and broader economic conditions. "We are prepared to act in 2009."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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