Nearly 43 years after the Concorde’s inaugural flight, Sir Richard Branson and his beleaguered Virgin Galactic are joining forces with Rolls-Royce to build another supersonic passenger jet, this one capable of catapulting the uber rich from London to New York in 90 minutes.
“Utterly pointless,” is the Daily Mail’s response, delivered in a tone mingling boredom with fury.
“The Virgin announcement is the equivalent of a small boy who’s just scored his first goal for his primary school football team telling his parents he’s been signed up by Liverpool,” writes former BBC correspondent John Humphrys, in an opinion piece for the Mail. He calls the blueprint for the jet “an ego-driven pipe dream that is so half-baked it’s hard to know where to begin.”
To start: the Concorde itself was a failure, being “absurdly expensive to fly, environmentally ruinous, and technically unreliable. And, of course, hideously noisy.” After a 2000 crash in Paris that killed 113, the company never recovered.
Yet Branson is not the only one pursuing dreams of supersonic glory. “Rivals such as Lockheed Martin, Aerion, Spike Aerospace, and Boom Supersonic are all piling into the same game,” writes Humphrys.
His response to Virgin’s claim that the plane will use “state-of-the-art sustainable” fuel? “Sure. And I’m just putting the finishing touches in my garden shed to a system for getting atoms to fuse together so we can all have free electricity forever.”
At least U.S. tech billionaire Elon Musk is trying to “save humanity,” Humphrys writes—at least to the limited extent of recognizing that “we are making such a stunning job of destroying this planet that it will soon be uninhabitable and we will have to move somewhere else.”
But rather than pinning wild hopes on everyone moving to Mars, Humphrys suggests a simpler solution: “Why don’t we stop doing our damndest to destroy the one planet that we have?” While he concedes the value of Musk’s Tesla, he has no time for Branson’s new venture, labelling it grotesquely irresponsible in a world still suffering through COVID-19.
“The more we rush around the world, the greater the chance a new virus has of becoming a deadly pandemic,” he writes. Rather than manage New York to London in 90 minutes, he says, it’s high time for humanity to slow down and “concentrate our collective knowledge and resources on a more stable, self-contained world.”