FAA clears Virgin Galactic to fly passengers to space

Virgin Galactic announced Friday that the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the company to fly passengers to space, a major step toward the launch of commercial operations.

“Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch license, in conjunction with the success of our May 22 test flight, give us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement.

Virgin Galactic has held a launch license from the FAA since 2016 that allows the Richard Branson-owned company to conduct spaceflights

But the expansion of the license now clears the space tourism company to fly customers on its rockets. It’s the first time the FAA has licensed a spaceline to fly customers, the company said.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides (left, pictured with Richard Branson  and Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya) said the company will make its "first fully crewed test flight this summer."
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides (left, pictured with Richard Branson and Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya) said the company will make its “first fully crewed test flight this summer.”
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The news propelled shares of Virgin Galactic more than 12 percent in premarket trading Friday, with the stock trading as high as $45 per share.

The company’s stock has struggled this year after it saw delays in testing that threatened to push back its launch of commercial operations. The stock stood above $60 per share as recently as February before collapsing to nearly $15 per share last month.

Virgin Galactic hasn’t announced when its next spaceflight will be, but there’s speculation the company will try to launch Branson, its billionaire founder, to space before Amazon CEO and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos makes his trip to the edge of space on July 20.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo flies over the Mojave Desert
Virgin Galactic’s value increased more than 12 percent in premarket trading.
REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Virgin Galactic previously announced its next spaceflight would carry four passengers, while the second would carry Branson.

But the recent clearance from the FAA could set the company up to steal Bezos’ thunder.