Boeing will invest $20 million (Dh73.4m) in Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism venture as it focuses on using emerging technology to shape the future of travel.
The US plane maker will receive new shares in Virgin Galactic in return for the investment made by its unit Boeing HorizonX Ventures, the companies said in a joint statement. The investment will depend on Virgin Galactic going public by the fourth quarter of the year, as part of a merger deal with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings.
"We're very excited... We do think there's a future for commercial space travel and of course high-speed travel," Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of Boeing Next, a sister company of HorizonX Ventures, said at Boeing's Everett factory site. "We're making a number of organic and inorganic investments, Virgin Galactic being one, that plant some of the seeds for that future industry and we think it's going to be very positive."
The deal comes amid Boeing's focus on future mobility including flights at supersonic and hypersonic speeds, cutting travel times to two hours or even less. Virgin Galactic, which is backed by Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Investment Company, will go public by the end of the year and has raised more than $1 billion since it was founded in 2004.
"This is the beginning of an important collaboration for the future of air and space travel, which are the natural next steps for our human spaceflight programme," said Mr Branson. "Virgin Galactic and Boeing share a vision of opening access to the world and space, to more people in a safe and environmentally responsible ways."
Asked about the projects and timelines targeted under the deal, Mr Nordlund said that will be driven by the safety of flight.
"The integrity of the airspace and safety of flight have to be at the forefront and centre of what we do. There is capital going in the area of future mobility and bringing new players that have not been in traditional aviation industry. We do feel that its important that we pace the timing of introduction of new models of transport, targeted not on a timeline, but a record of establishing safety of flight."
There is potential for early-stage flight of passenger travel in air taxi vehicles by the middle of the next decade, supersonic travel in the middle to end of the next decade, and hypersonic travel is a "few decades away", when done at scale, Mr Nordlund said.
"I think the Middle East region is certainly one that is very viable to future mobility for reasons that include the focus on smart cities and the development that's going on, it gives you in some cases a clean sheet approach," he said.