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Virgin CEO to Business Leaders: Pressure Legislators for Spaceport Liability Waiver

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The CEO of Virgin Galactic asked Albuquerque business leaders today to help pressure the state Legislature to pass a bill that would shield spacecraft manufacturers from some lawsuits filed by space travelers.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides made the remarks this morning during a presentation for the Albuquerque Economic Forum, a coalition of community business leaders. Whitesides said the legislation is essential to recruiting new commercial spaceflight companies to move to New Mexico and join Virgin Galactic as tenants of the state’s $209 million spaceport.

“What I would ask of all of you is, if you agree, to communicate the importance of the bill to your legislators, because I know they take this (business) community more seriously than many — than most — so that’s really critical,” Whitesides said.

Whitesides noted that other states attempting to lure commercial spacecraft manufacturers and operators to their own spaceports have expanded their legal protections beyond what New Mexico established in 2008. Now, the state needs to keep up, he said.

The legislation, which is being considered for a third time by the state Legislature this year, has drawn strong opposition from the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association. The group has said the bill would represent an unprecedented roll-back of legal protections for a single industry.

“The state of New Mexico and its taxpayers have made a huge investment in commercial space and in order to protect that investment, it needs to remain in relative parity with other states,” Whitesides said.

“The fact is that the current situation will keep companies from locating in New Mexico and at the spaceport. The bills would change that and would really open the door to new business,” he said.

Asked if Virgin Galactic would re-locate to another state if the bill didn’t pass, Whitesides said the company intends to stay in New Mexico but said the state’s spaceport must recruit additional companies if its going to remain successful.

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