With the UK Government about to impose a 14-day quarantine on arriving passengers from most other countries, UK airlines and airports, are protesting. Rather than a very disruptive quarantine airports and airlines would ideally prefer much less draconian measures on travel such as temperature checks, or, at the very worst, having Vienna-airport style coronavirus testing. Even without this new measure there has been a 97 per cent loss in passenger numbers during the coronavirus pandemic and airlines are on the point of going bust. One of these is the UK-based Virgin Atlantic which is regarded as the “jewel in the crown” of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group leisure empire. And to save it, so another part of the empire – Virgin Galactic – or rather part of it is now to be sacrificed, just so that Virgin Atlantic can survive.
Having seen the Australian airline spin-off, Virgin Australia, go into voluntary administration in April, it was not much of a surprise that Virgin Group announced that, in order to shore up the airline, it is to sell about 22 per cent of its stake in Virgin Galactic, the yet-to-fly operationally suborbital space tourism operation. The sale is is expected to raise circa US$485 million. Virgin Galactic is part owned, following a merger, by Social Capital Hedosophia.
The Virgin Galactic space operation, which has become a byword for technical and programme delays, most tragically after the test flight of one of its SpaceShipTwo craft broke apart in flight, was, nevertheless, hoping to begin fare paying passenger – or rather “participant” flights – next year.