STOCKTON — The Stockton Metropolitan Airport celebrated an aviation milestone Friday when it opened its newest route to Southern California.

The first flight on United Express landed at the airport from Los Angeles International Airport just after 2 p.m., carrying about 36 passengers, airport director Russell Stark said.

About 90 minutes later, the same plane, a CRJ200, took off from the SMF runway carrying 30 passengers back to Los Angeles.

Flights between Stockton and Los Angeles will be twice a day, seven days a week.

“We’re extremely happy and relieved that today happened as well as it did,” Stark said moments after the maiden flight to LAX.

“The support we received not only from the city of Stockton and the county, but the entire region, was just phenomenal,” he added. “We had people from all over the Central Valley Region come out to this as we try to expand or service here. It was a true regional effort.”

The Los Angeles route is Stockton Metropolitan’s second to Southern California, as the hub has been flying to and from San Diego through Allegiant Air since 2016.

Pat Patrick, chief executive officer of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, said the new flights are a positive addition to the region.

“The wineries are telling me they foresee an increasing amount of wine tasters from Southern California, as well as from around the world, coming to Lodi,” he said. “We do have a wine region that’s becoming recognized more and more, and LAX being an international hub, (the flights) make it a lot easier to get here from all over the world now.”

Patrick said local businesses may also begin to see an influx of new tourist clientele. Executives with business in local agricultural and manufacturing industries could spend a night or two, eat at some of Lodi’s restaurants or even experience the Downtown area on a short business trip.

He said those flying in from Los Angeles could potentially help Measure L funds as well.

“With the recent passage of Measure L, 25 percent of the money generated to help our community services fund is going to be paid by visitors, including these new visitors,” he said. “It’s really the best way to have money injected into community coffers.”

Jeffrey Michael, Executive Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research in the Eberhardt School of Business at University of the Pacific, said the new route will make the Stockton and Lodi region more attractive in general.

He added it will boost local economy and employment over time, as well as provide a convenient location that will bring business partners into the area.

“Obviously there are major destinations that are tourist regions that benefit from having an airport,” he said. “The presence of some air service will definitely allow local business to benefit from tourism in the region, but we are not expecting a huge increase or that it will boost as a service immediately, maybe over time as the airport expands.”

Earlier this year, Stark and his staff met with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss routes to destinations such as Seattle, Denver and Salt Lake City.

No new routes out of Stockton Metropolitan Airport have been announced yet.

Staff Writer Oula Miqbel contributed to this report.

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