Some Virgin Galactic customers demand money back


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

News reports suggest that — following last week’s SpaceShipTwo crash — more than thirty of the seven hundred people who placed deposits with Virgin Galactic to fly on SpaceshipTwo have pulled out, demanding their money back.

In response to the claim that more than 30 customers are considering their position in the aftermath of the crash, a spokesperson for Virgin Galactic admitted a number of people have asked for their money back. “We can confirm that less than three per cent of people have requested refunds,” the spokesman said.

This is not a surprise, nor should it be. A company can only survive a crisis like this by responding honestly, quickly, and directly. If Virgin Galactic does this, finding the cause of the crash and fixing it, they will likely hold onto most of their customers. If they don’t, those remaining customers will leave. This week’s cancellations are the first immediate response to the crash. The future of the company, however, will be determined by what happens in the next six months.

4 comments

  • Edward

    “A company can only survive a crisis like this by responding honestly, quickly, and directly. … The future of the company, however, will be determined by what happens in the next six months.”

    I agree. In past incidents, those companies that have been honest and responded quickly have had the best public reactions in the aftermath.

    I would also recommend to Virgin Galactic to quickly make refunds to those customers who have developed cold feet. They can always come back later when the ship is proven safe (perhaps VG can keep their current place in line, or close to it), but quick refunds lead to fewer complaints and keeps up the customers’ and the public’s confidence in the company.

    So far, the company has not made any wild guesses about what went wrong or why. Although a lack of information may seem like they are not being forthright, they won’t later be perceived as liars. Branson has also made himself available for interviews, so he is not seen as hiding. I have not heard of any major gaffs in his interviews, and he seems to answer the question honestly to the best of his ability. I think that he hasn’t had any experience with this kind of accident in the past, so he seems to be doing well his first time “in the dock.”

    I am still concerned about the eventual reaction to this first private spaceflight fatality. I expected a lot of criticisms, and I still worry that Congress will start passing laws that will hurt the entire commercial space industry, but so far I hear nothing from Congressmen (who are in recess in order to campaign). That could be due to Branson’s handling of the accident.

  • DK Williams

    A report out Monday claimed the crash was due to pilot error. We will see.

  • The reports do NOT say pilot error, they note that the co-pilot took the first step to activating the feathering system, as he was supposed to do, though maybe slightly early. The feathering system then deployed on its own, without the second command being given. We at this moment do not know the finer details that make his action significant, or not. We need to wait for more data.

    We must not speculate on this subject, especially because this issue could do harm to innocent people.

  • Edward

    DK,

    After a major failure like this, the investigation will not begin by focusing on any one aspect but by looking at all aspects that could have had an effect on the accident and narrow down the search for all relevant problems. Software, procedures, ground preparations, electrical and mechanical systems, human error (by any of the people involved), and other aspects will be closely scrutinized. Just because the co-pilot flipped a switch a few seconds earlier than planned does not mean that it was the cause of the accident. If things were that critical, then it likely would have been planned differently or interlocks would have been put in place.

    The investigators will slowly rule out possible contributing factors. They have already ruled out engine explosion, as it was found intact, but there could be other aspects to the engine that could have contributed (one of Robert’s earlier posts linked to an article headlining that the engine was not the cause — as you said, we will see).

    As with most accidents, there are likely a number of contributing factors, so we should expect several fixes. There could also be recommendations to make other, unrelated changes, because with such close scrutiny of the whole system the investigators are likely to come across other aspects that could be improved.

    One of the problems that we are facing is that news reports are almost always wrong. Reporters couldn’t care less about a cause. They care about getting, before anyone else, an exciting story that everyone will want to read, and if they tell us a wrong cause, it will take a long time before the truth gets out — if it ever does. Thus carelessness in reporting is accepted by that industry, and a lot of what we know-to-be-true is wrong. (Ask me about waivers and the Challenger accident, sometime. We were told the *exact opposite* of what they do.)

    The engineers at Scaled Composites couldn’t care more about the causes — all of them — and they are willing to be patient in order to find out what really needs to be fixed. Carelessness is *not* acceptable in aerospace. It can get people killed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *