HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii tourism officials have been crunching the numbers and estimate that United Airline's new non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Hilo could bring in as much as $50 million to the Big Island economy.
The first flight that landed on Thursday was reminiscent of the old Hawaii boat days. They pulled out all the stops at Hilo Airport showing United Flight 1564 with some Big Island aloha.
Officials hope the arrival of the 737 will usher in a new era for east Hawaii. It is the first daily non-stop flight from L.A. to Hilo in almost 30 years.
An additional, once-weekly, non-stop flight from San Francisco to Hilo begins Saturday, and does not need to connect in Honolulu.
"This flight actually cuts two hours out of travel time," said Greg King, United Airlines Hilo-Kona General Manager.
For years, Big Island officials believe east Hawaii was getting shortchanged. Tourists would fly from the mainland to Kona, spending the majority of their time on the west side, while going over to, say, Hawaii Volcanos National Park for just the day. So, officials struck a deal with United.
"You can fly from Los Angeles to Kona. Spend a week or two in Kona, drive to Hilo, spend a few days, and then leave through Hilo or vice versa," said George Applegate, Big Island Visitors Bureau. "Open choice at the same price."
Tourism officials think visitors will stay in the islands longer.
"It's wonderful to have a direct flight to Hilo," said Carole Geballe, Hilo resident.
United's two new non-stop flights are estimated to carry some 40,000 visitors to Hawaii annually.
United and Continental Airlines are in the midst of a merger. So, while both new routes are under the United name, they are being operated by Continental.
The public will be able to make reservations under either airline.
United Airlines is the busiest airline in Hawaii.