Southwest Airlines officials announced today they’re bringing service to Iowa. The plan will involve converting the AirTran Airways operation, that currently serves the Des Moines Airport,  to Southwest over time.

Des Moines Airport Authority Executive Director Don Smithey says there’s no time table for the transition. “When they can get the two companies put together, get the computer systems merged, get the reward systems merged and all the other things that are involved in combining two airlines together – then we will see it. It will be in 2012,” Smithey said.

Southwest purchased AirTran in May of last year. Business and government leaders in Iowa have lobbied Southwest for several years to begin flights to the state.

Governor Terry Branstad, in a news release about the Southwest announcement, called today “a great day for Iowa.” Smithey said a good transportation system, including low-fare air carriers, is essential to growing the state’s economy.

“We have good highway access…Interstates 29, 35 and other great state routes that can bring people here to this airport very rapidly,” Smithey said. “It allows them to access the system of Southwest, which is extensive, and gives them the ability to select a new carrier with new flights to new destinations, probably, at a very reasonable price.”

Southwest often receives the industry’s top marks for service and cost. The airline already offers service in Omaha, Kansas City and Minneapolis – among other Midwest cities.

Des Moines is one of just 22 airports where Southwest announced plans today to convert AirTran Airways operations. AirTran will cease operations and not be converted to Southwest at airports in Allentown and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Lexington, Kentucky; Sarasota, Florida; Huntsville, Alabama; and White Plains, New York.