There have been some conflicting statements in the media recently about when Virgin Galactic would begin passenger service. Flight International reported this week that the company is “still a few years away from operations”, in the words of company COO Alex Tai, who spoke a Royal Aeronautical Society event in London last week on the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. That would represent something of a delay over previous statements—understandable given the accident in Mojave in July—although Virgin officials have frequently said in the past that they are driven by safety rather than a specific schedule.
However, Richard Branson has a different schedule in mind. In San Francisco yesterday to inaugurate Virgin America airline service to Las Vegas, Branson said that Virgin Galactic is “still just about 18 months from launch”. Branson added that the White Knight 2 carrier aircraft, which had been named “Eve” in some accounts, would be named “The Spirit of Steve Fossett” after the aviator who went missing last month in Nevada; Branson had sponsored some of Fossett’s record-breaking flights.