SAN DIEGO - The first regularly scheduled nonstop flight between San Diego and Tokyo landed at Lindbergh Field on Sunday, bringing with it hopes of increased tourism and economic opportunity for both sides.
The new service by Japan Airlines is "great news," said Bob O'Heir, a San Marcos resident who travels to Tokyo five or six times yearly for business.
"It's extremely convenient to not have to go up to LA (first)," O'Heir, an employee of Hitachi, told City News Service as he waited for the inaugural return flight to Tokyo's Narita Airport. "It saves me several hours of travel time."
Yoshiharu Ueki, the president of Japan Airlines, said at a news conference that numerous companies around San Diego County have close ties to Japan or other Asian nations and, until now, travel between the two regions has been difficult.
The airline recently began service to Boston, and wanted a West Coast match, which led to San Diego, Ueki said.
He said he envisions travelers flying to San Diego for medical and business conventions and visiting Comic-Con International. Medical devices will require rapid shipment, which could boost the airline's cargo business, he said.
Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Asia is the logical target for San Diego to grow its tourism industry, he said.
"We think that visitors from Japan will flock to San Diego on this new flight," Terzi said. A local tourism delegation is scheduled to travel to Japan next week to promote San Diego as a tourist destination.
San Diego economic boosters have lusted after direct service to Japan for years, in part because of the Japanese-run factories or "maquiladoras" in the Tijuana area.
"This is going to be a great opportunity for our business community to expand its relationships throughout Asia," Terzi said.
One of the arguments for building a new San Diego airport was to have a runway long enough to accommodate jumbo jets bound for Asia. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner gave airlines a jet that could fly long distances without requiring longer runways.
The wide-body aircraft, which Japan Airlines configured to carry up to 186 passengers, is marketed as more fuel efficient and comfortable for long-haul flights.
The JAL 787 was greeted upon arrival by a water salute from the hoses of a pair of fire trucks near Lindbergh Field's Terminal 2.
Thella Bowens, CEO of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, said San Diego was the largest U.S. city without a nonstop flight to Asia until Sunday. Also, the city had the largest Asian population without direct air service.
The flight is scheduled for Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, arriving at Lindbergh Field at 9:45 a.m. and departing for Tokyo at 11:30 a.m. The flights are expected to be operated daily in March.
The flight has a ticket code-sharing arrangement with American Airlines but will be operated by Japan Airlines.