An illustration of the interior of Virgin Galactic's SpaceshipTwo spacecraft. Credit: Virgin Galactic
PANDEMIC NEWS UPDATE: Virgin Galactic delays first passenger flight; U.S. lawmakers push for mask mandate for air travelers; fewer flights means less accurate weather forecasting
By Cat Hofacker|August 5, 2020
Our weekly compendium of coronavirus news
Virgin Galactic has pushed the first passenger flight of its suborbital space plane SpaceShipTwo to 2021. Health and safety guidelines limiting the number of employees on site at the New Mexico spaceport “has slowed the Company’s pace,” Chief Space Officer George Whitesides said Monday in a press release. Before the pandemic, Virgin had planned to begin operations later this year.
Weather forecasters receive temperature, pressure readings and other meteorological readings from passenger planes, but the global reduction in airline flights from March to May reduced those observations by 50%-75%, according to a study from Lancaster University’s Environment Centre in the United Kingdom. Researchers compared the forecast accuracy for those months against the same period in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and found that the “accuracy of surface meteorology” decreased “remarkably” in 2020.
Despite the pandemic, the number of space launches in the first half of 2020 was “on par with previous years,” according to the Space Foundation’s “The Space Report, Q2” analysis.
All airline passengers and employees would be required to wear masks on aircraft and other public transportation under legislation passed last week by the U.S. House of Representatives. In a statement, the White House called the mandate “overly restrictive,” and said “such decisions should be left to States, local governments, transportation systems, and public health leaders working together to reduce the public health risk and restore passenger confidence in these transportation systems.”
Airbus will receive $219 million over the next three years from the Spanish government to reduce the company’s job cuts in the country, according to a joint statement. Airbus last month said it would cut an estimated 15,000 jobs over the next year, 900 of which are in Spain. The payments, which will be dispersed annually through 2023, will come from the European Union recovery fund.
U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Rick Larsen of Washington, both Democrats, last week introduced the Healthy Flights Act of 2020, which would “provide a set of uniform requirements” regarding mask wearing for airline passengers and employees. The bill would also require that the FAA lead the development of a national aviation preparedness plan to guide the response to future pandemics.