For anyone who has endured an apparently unending long-haul flight to Australia, or similarly far-flung destination, the prospect of a short two-hour hop to anywhere in the world must seem like something out of science fiction – and that is exactly what the latest plans to revolutionise the global travel industry are, thanks to a collaboration between international carrier KLM and a Dutch Formula One tycoon.
Michiel Mol is joint owner of the Force India F1 team, although his billions stem from his first fortune, which he made in computer software. He is now putting this tech-savvy to use by joining forces with KLM to develop a space shuttle designed with the specific role of intra-planetary travel.
Progress, according to the partnership has been good, with the first sub-orbital flights expected in just three years’ time. These will not be cheap, with tickets currently priced at a wallet-busting £60,000 each, but a recent report in the Sunday Times claimed that the consortium wishes to begin the first scheduled flights taking advantage of commercial space travel in between 15 and 20 years.
“Being able to travel from London to Sydney in an hour and 45 minutes, that is the future,” Mr Mol declared this week. “It is also the reason why KLM joined our firm Space Expedition Curacao as a partner.”
KLM chief executive, Peter Hartman was also enthusiastic, saying that “the programme’s aim is to make space flights – the future of travel – accessible in a responsible and sustainable way by developing and promoting new technologies.”
The announcement will cause some distress to Virgin Atlantic owner Sir Richard Branson, who has repeatedly insisted that he will become the first private operator to offer commercial space tourism, with his seats going for an even more pricey £130,000 apiece – a far cry from the cheap flights to the USA and other long-haul destinations available on his more earthbound airlines.