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Long Beach pie and Reno revelry crossed paths in the Biggest Little City on Monday as a new JetBlue flight arrived to a band and cheering squad on the tarmac at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Underneath all the fanfare and positive vibes, however, is the latest test for Reno-Sparks — specifically in its efforts to add more flights and maintain its newfound momentum following a severe recession.

JetBlue’s inaugural flight from Long Beach, Calif., to Reno touched down on a hot 88-degree day after 11 a.m., bringing a host of passengers that included dignitaries from the company as well as Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson. It is the second major flight addition for JetBlue to Reno following its nonstop service to New York City.

The positive performance of the New York flight was cited as a key reason for the new Long Beach route. Asked about any new routes in the works for Reno, one JetBlue official expressed optimism to the Reno Gazette-Journal about more potential routes, at least in the West.

“I think we’ll see more western growth so we’ll see how this Reno (to Long Beach) flight does,” said Thomas Berg, JetBlue western regional manager. “I have a feeling this will be a great flight — this market with Long Beach has been in demand for a while.”

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Reno-Tahoe International Airport sees its first annual increase in passenger traffic in a decade while setting a record for air cargo in 2015. Jason Hidalgo/RGJ

Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson called the new route a great opportunity for both cities. In addition to helping boost travel, it also provides a more direct link between each city’s respective economies.

“It’s great for folks who may want to reconnect with family,” Richardson said. “But it's also a tremendous advantage for Long Beach and Reno to be working together.”

Long Beach interim airport director Juan Lopez-Rios echoed Richardson’s opinion.

“Airports are part of the economic engine of their region,” Lopez-Rios said. “It’s important for us to provide service to different regions and Reno complements that.”

The addition of the Long Beach route is one of the latest in a string of new flights for the Reno Airport. After hemorrhaging routes during the recession, Reno-Tahoe International Airport added 11 new flights in the last 14 months as well as its first passenger growth in a decade. The airport also posted record cargo hauls this year.

JetBlue’s decision to offer daily nonstop service to New York City last year was seen as an especially big addition to an airport that has prioritized adding direct flights to the East Coast — crucial for attracting not just more travelers to the area but convention and events business as well. After leaving Reno following its 2013 event due to concerns about access to air travel, for example, Safari Club International announced this year that it is returning for three years in 2019, 2020 and 2021, citing improvement in air routes as a key reason.

As with its other new flights, the Reno Tahoe Airport Authority said it is important that the new flights show strong demand. Marily Mora, president and CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority used the mantra of “use it or lose it” once again as she touted the importance of supporting the new JetBlue flight.

“This second flight that JetBlue added shows confidence in the airport and our community,” Mora said. “This is a new service that we didn’t have before so it’s really important to our community tourism.”

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