Delta Air Lines Inc. CEO Gerald Grinstein announced June 14 that Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and nine other U.S. governors sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in support of the airline’s bid for a nonstop route between Atlanta and Shanghai, China.

The proposed route would be Atlanta’s first nonstop flight to China. Delta aims to begin nonstop service between Atlanta and Shanghai as early as March 25 next year if granted approval by the transportation department.

“Customers, businesses, and elected officials from across the Southeast are unwavering in their support of Delta because they understand the positive impact that air travel has on their region,” Mr. Grinstein said during a presentation of the governors’ letter at the Georgia State Capitol June 14.

“We are appreciative of the governors’ support for our efforts to connect China directly to the Southeast and look forward to proving to the Department of Transportation that Atlanta to Shanghai is the best choice for the next new route to China.”

The department is expected to issue an order that will officially launch Delta’s bid for the Atlanta-Shanghai route.

Delta is one of several carriers competing for a nonstop route to China. The Atlanta-based airline began campaigning in earnest for the route last summer after the State of Georgia announced it would open an office in Beijing this year.

An agreement between the United States and China signed in May promised to double the number of passenger flights between the two countries by 2012, allowing 23 daily roundtrip flights, up from the 10 currently in operation.

The arrangement allows the U.S. to select three additional airlines to fly to China, with at least one designated for cargo.

Delta, Atlanta and Georgia officials have been drumming up support from the local and regional business community to convince the transportation department to tap Delta for the route. State and city agencies have also been lobbying in China for the airline, including during Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s 2006 trip to China and Georgia Economic Development Commissioner Ken Stewart’s visit there this year.

Delta CFO Ed Bastian told a June 13 investors conference that he had “reasonable confidence” the airline could secure the China route. “We are expecting, with our fingers crossed here, to receive China authority,” he said, according to reports of the conference.

The letter of support signed by fellow Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states’ governors, and even by the Puerto Rican governor, demonstrated the importance of Delta for the regions, Mr. Perdue said in a press conference June 14.

“Delta and our hometown airport provide a hub for commerce, and we know that direct air service to new destinations results in increased trade, tourism and economic development for communities across the Southeast. This new route will be a big win for the fastest growing region in the U.S.,” he said.

In addition to Mr. Perdue, other signers of the letter included Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Puerto Rico Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III.

The Delta flight is part of Atlanta’s and Georgia’s ongoing efforts to build business relationships with China. Mr. Perdue plans to travel to China later this year to officially open Georgia’s office in Beijing. State and City of Atlanta officials have also proposed to Chinese authorities, who have reacted positively, that Atlanta should be the next U.S. location for a Chinese consulate.

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Contact Mr. Perdue’s office at (404) 656-1776 or visit