A new, non-stop flight between Victoria and San Francisco starting this summer could be a boon for two of Victoria’s most vibrant industries.

United Airlines announced the service Tuesday. Its United Express unit will start flying the route on June 5.

Boosters of the service say it will have an immediate economic impact on the tourism and high-tech sectors.

“This is a fantastic opportunity, it’s huge,” said Sasha Angus, economic development officer with the Greater Victoria Development Agency. “If California was its own country, it would be the sixth largest economy in the world, and anytime you have a direct link to something like that, it’s huge.”

It’s no wonder the two industries have been chomping at the bit for this kind of service for years.

“We just plugged in to the centre of the high-tech universe,” said Dale Gann, vicepresident of the Vancouver Island Technology Park and chairman of B.C. Biotech. “We consider this to be a major step forward in the economic development of Victoria.”

Gann said flying directly to San Francisco — the heart of Silicon Valley and considered one of the global epicentres of venture capital — will result in millions of investment dollars for Island firms.

According to Gann, venture capital from California firms hit $13.8 billion in 2007, a far cry from the $2.3 billion shelled out by Canadian firms last year and the $320 million from British Columbia. Venture capital from the Seattle-area alone was worth $1.3 billion in 2007.

Gann said the difference in a Victoria firm landing venture capital to build their companies is accessibility, and trimming the travel time to the Bay area from six hours, requiring a stop in Seattle, to two hours with a direct flight from Victoria should start showing immediate dividends.

“And not just venture capital, but human capital as well,” said Gann, who logs thousands of air miles a year travelling to other tech parks and biotech conferences around the world. “We’ve always been in the right time zone. It was just too inconvenient. We’ve just knocked down a massive barrier here, and it will pay off with development in our sector and others.”

That’s how the tourism sector also sees things.

“It’s great news for us, and something we’ve been talking about for many years,” said Roger Soane, chairman of Tourism Victoria.

“It now gives us the ability to go down there and market the destination.”

Soane said it would be difficult to make a big splash in the ad-saturated California market by paying for advertising, so Tourism Victoria will likely use its travel media department to get its message across to Bay area residents though travel writers.

“It’s a very affluent market that’s looking for new products for quick getaways,” said Soane.

“We will sell the uniqueness of Victoria.”

That same appeal coupled with the new easy access to Victoria could also help fan the flames of the hot Victoria real estate market.

“A non-stop flight really could be big, if it’s now just a couple of hours to get here that would really appeal,” said Pat Parker of Century 21 Royal Victoria Realty. “I have a number of clients from that area who live down there and are back and forth all the time, they like the fact there are a lot of similarities in the two cities.”

United will use a 66-seat CRJ 700 aircraft on the route which Victoria Airport Authority CEO Richard Paquette said is expected to operate yearround.

“That’s how it was introduced,” he said, though he was quick to note airlines are renowned for changing their minds should the economic picture change. “Airlines don’t [commit]. They commit as long as it’s profitable, and that’s why it’s important the whole community get behind this and see that it works.”

Paquette likes the potential the route has with well-established business and tourism links, but he added it doesn’t necessarily preclude the establishment of a direct flight between Victoria and Los Angeles in the future — a route that has been discussed for years.

The non-stop flight to Victoria leaves San Francisco at 9:05 a.m. and arrives at 11:14 a.m., while the return flight leaves Victoria at 11:52 a.m. The cost of a round-trip, non-stop economy ticket is $534.

Earlier this week the Victoria Airport Authority board of directors was also looking ahead as it approved a 20-year plan which calls for an increase in the number of gates, amenities and space for security.

The top priority in the plan, however, is access to the airport, which will mean a $13-million upgrade to the intersection of the Patricia Bay Highway and McTavish Road. The authority has committed $3 million to the project and is looking for assistance from all levels of government.

Another priority is extending the main runway to 2,560 metres from 2,133 metres to accommodate a direct flight to London.

That project, which Paquette roughly estimates would cost $18 million, still needs study to determine the economic benefit, environmental cost and engineering feasibility.

“It’s a high priority for the board but until we have undertaken the studies and we are satisfied it makes sense it’s hard to say it’s a top priority; it is down the line a few years,” he said. “If [the studies] come down positively, we will move it forward.”

The extended runway would allow an aircraft to take off fully loaded with enough fuel to get to England.