Oakland Airport launches first direct flights to the U.K.By Annie Sciacca email@example.comPOSTED: 05/12/2016 12:43:41 PM PDT | UPDATED: 40 MIN. AGOOAKLAND — As Oakland ramps up its tourism industry, its latest international flight will be the first nonstop connection to the United Kingdom.Starting Thursday, Oakland International Airport offers nonstop flights to Gatwick on Norwegian.The flights will operate with Norwegian’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft three days per week, making it the airline’s third European route out of Oakland. In 2014, Norwegian launched direct service to Stockholm, Sweden, and to Oslo, Norway. With the new route to London, Norwegian now offers more routes from California to Europe than any other airline, according to a statement from the airport.”In as little as three years, we’ve launched three transatlantic routes from Oakland International Airport, and we see great potential for future growth from the Bay Area,” said Norwegian CEO Bjørn Kjos in a statement. “The Oakland routes are some of Norwegian’s best performing transatlantic routes.”The new flights come as Oakland International Airport has been gearing up as an international gateway.The connection to Gatwick marks the ninth international flight service at the airport, which, in addition to the Norwegian flights, offers service to Portugal’s Azores islands, and to five cities in Mexico.Advertisement”This is a significant development for travelers on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Bryant Francis, the Port of Oakland’s director of aviation, in a statement. “Norwegian has made a very smart move connecting two globally leading metropolitan areas in a way that is convenient and affordable. Now, nearly 4 million East Bay residents are able to travel to this top European destination using the airport closest to their homes and businesses while enjoying award-winning service at very attractive prices.”Fares for the flights between Oakland and London start at $299 one way.The international flight expansion is likely to continue. The airport is working on a $35 million expansion to its international terminal that will double its international flight capacity, said John Albrecht, aviation marketing manager for the Port of Oakland. That expansion is likely to be complete by next summer.There is also the ongoing $150 million renovation of Terminal 1, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2017.The East Bay has emerged as a destination for leisure travel, thanks to the efforts of its various visitors bureaus, but the Bay Area’s successful business climate has also prompted strong business travel numbers all over the region. That trend is particularly strong in Oakland.Thanks to companies moving over from San Francisco’s expensive office market, and local Oakland businesses expanding, the business community in Oakland is attracting more attention — and business travelers — than ever. That is expected to increase when tech giant Uber next year brings more than 2,000 employees to Uptown Station, the seven-story building at 1955 Broadway that the company purchased last year.Oakland’s hot restaurant scene is also a big cultural draw, and something that its marketing bureau, Visit Oakland, has worked hard to promote.The work seems to be paying off. Alameda County saw $3.89 billion in traveler spending in 2015, a 4.9 percent increase over the previous year.Contact Annie Sciacca at 925-943-8073. Follow her at Twitter.com/AnnieSciacca.