Branson hints at Virgin Galactic commercial flights by 2019

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TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. (KRQE) – For the first time in a long time, Sir Richard Branson has commented on when he plans to see Virgin Galactic commercial flights underway at Spaceport America.

Since the $219 million Spaceport opened in 2011, it has been a waiting game on Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant. Closing in on a decade later, and still Branson’s envisioned commercial space flights at $250,000 per seat are just an idea.

Now, in an interview with UK-based The Daily Telegraph, Branson says he expects to have flights up in space by 2019.

He told the Telegraph, “…I think I’d be very disappointed if we’re not into space with a test flight by the end of the year and I’m not into space myself next year and the program isn’t well underway by the end of next year.”

That means business might, at long last, boom at the Spaceport near T or C.

But after years of Branson’s projected timelines going unfulfilled, state Senator George Munoz, D-Gallup, is skeptical.

“‘Oh, this is going to be the greatest thing. We’re going to have tourism, we’re going to have everybody up and running,'” Sen. Munoz said. “Twelve years later, here we are.”

More so, though, Munoz is a critic of the Spaceport. He says it’s losing roughly $1 million a year and costing taxpayers an arm and a leg in bonds.

Virgin Galactic’s space flights were intended to be the driving force behind the facility’s success and to bring new business to the area.

“That’s what happens when you rely on one source of income, we see that in the budget, and one tenant to make you whole,” Sen. Munoz said.

Sen. Munoz says the Spaceport has diversified with other tenants, like SpaceX and EXOS Aerospace, but not enough to stay out of the red.

“We have to change that mantra and say, ‘Okay, how do we make it profitable now?’ and not rely on Virgin Galactic to do that for us,” Sen. Munoz said.

KRQE News 13 reached out to Virgin Galactic for comment and received this statement in response:

Virgin Galactic is now flight testing VSS Unity, the spaceship that will operate commercial spaceflights from Spaceport America.  The flight test program will conclude in New Mexico air space, where our growing in-state team continues to establish the foundation for commercial service. Like our partners at the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, we remain committed to these plans, and look forward to helping inspire a new generation of New Mexican students toward science and technology careers.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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