The following text is my expanded notes from my 24 January interview in New York with Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough. Some of this found its way into my article about the business side of the Virgin Galactic plan.
credit: Virgin Galactic
We have had our first confirmed charter flight. An American booked an entire flight. We could see group bookings from people with an agenda, for art, science, for spiritual reasons. Scientific research etc could see a third White Knight II (WK2) needed [Galactic has ordered two].We gained 25 new customers in the last month (December 2007 – January 2008). A strong December and January. Two to three in the last couple of days.
For training we want activities for strangers [the individual passengers who may not know each other] to get to know each other, team building activities.
Its still three days of training and preparation, we are still designing the three day training [regime]. The [ongoing] centrifuge work [with the founders] will inform that package of activities to take on before you go.
We are working with travel agents, selling it as the adventure end of luxury holidays, advertised as ultimate experience.
Our customers are inspired by NASA Apollo programme, the age range is in the 40s to 50s, our agents are contributing to growth in ticket sales.
Last year  saw work being done behind closed doors, but we wanted to show what was going on. Now is the year of tangibility, something we can show.
WK2 will roll out of the factory in May, in about 14 weeks [from 24 January].
Roll out to start ground testing then first flight during the summer. Although WK2 will be test flying, Oshkosh debut in July is perhaps a little early.
The customers pay their own way to go to events like the New York unveil event. The founders going to the [NASTAR] centrifuge was different, “it was out of our pocket”.
The tickets sales are proof of the market, our customers help to convince financial markets that there is demand.
Our website gets lots of registrations. We also get customers from referrals, word of mouth, its acting like viral marketing at the moment.
Current customers want special access, insiders on the project, factory visits, and they are getting those.
We are earning interest on deposits and ticket sales. The deposits and ticket sales are in an escrow account. That is not our money yet but we have the right to use it. It is appropriate to ring fence it. We have had some refund requests, six in all [as of 24 January], two due to health issues and the other four “due to changing circumstances”.
We have a ball park figure [for cost of training element] but don’t want to talk about that. It will entail three days at a hotel, centrifuge is a big component. Our package will start in New Mexico. The centrifuge could be additional.
For acclimatisation training we may want our own centrifuge installation for Virgin Galactic at the New Mexico spaceport, maybe.
We could do cut price, everything but the flight. There will be a mock up flight deck in the left fuselage [from a plan view] of WK2. We could offer simulator training to experience flying the WK2/SS2. We probably haven’t thought of all the applications.
We need to amortise the investment as quickly as possible. Our business plan is focused on demand and the market we know about.
The decision to go ahead was made with the Virgin Group investment advisory committee. It advises Richard [Branson] on potential investments and authorises them. It goes through a process. A couple of investment advisory committee members are on the board of Virgin Galactic.