For the first time ever, scheduled passenger air service has been launched between Thunder Bay and Chicago.

A United Airlines jet is scheduled to arrive from Chicago this evening. 

Thunder Bay International Airport CEO Scott McFadden calls the new connection a milestone.

"There are very few of what you might call the secondary or tertiary communities across Canada that have direct air service to the United States ... being included in that group is certainly important," McFadden said.

McFadden says direct connections have the potential to benefit Thunder Bay economically.

"With a good amount of investment coming in to the mining sector -- a lot of that associated with U.S.companies or U.S. financing -- having this direct route as an alternative to U.S. markets from Thunder Bay is very important," he said.

The ability for people to fly to hundreds of other United Airlines destinations through Chicago should make it safer and more convenient for air travellers, he added.

He expects the new service will attract some of the people who currently drive for hours from Thunder Bay to Minnesota to catch flights.

The first Chicago-bound flight from Thunder Bay will leave Friday morning. 

United is using Canadair CRJ regional jets, seating 50 passengers.