Below is the transcript of an exclusive CNBC interview with Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Founder, and CNBC's Nancy Hungerford.
Nancy Hungerford (NANCY): Let me bring in Sir Richard Branson the founder of Virgin Group. Pleasure to have you here on the show thank you very much. Let's talk about one of your big projects at the moment and that is with Virgin Galactic working towards the next test flight and the eventual real flight that is, give us an update on where you are.
Richard Branson (BRANSON): We are more than tantalizingly close now so we should be in space within weeks not months. And then we'll be in space with myself in months not years. And then we'll be in space with people you know not too long after that so. So we've got a very very exciting couple of months ahead.
NANCY: Certainly it's exciting and I wonder what you're expecting in the way of consumer demand because really at Virgin Group it's all been about disrupting the sector throughout your history where customers are under-served. But in the field of space they haven't been served at all. So does that make you nervous at all trying to gauge the market and just what that demand will look like.
BRANSON: If I have a room full of 10 people eight out of ten would love to go to space. If they could afford it. And of those people who could afford it. Again it's something like eight to eight out of ten would love to go to space. So I think the market for people who would love to become astronauts go to space is gigantic. I think it's up to us to produce as many space ships as we can to cater to that demand. And then we've also obviously got Virgin orbit which is going to be putting satellites into space that should go into space either December or January. The demand for putting small satellites into space, it's a gigantic one. I mean there's a four and a half billion people who are not connected so. So we're hoping that we'll do well as well.
NANCY: When you say if they could afford it just how much is it today and what will it look like let's say 10 years from now will the costs come down significantly?
BRANSON: So it's taken us 14 years to get here. Initially the costs will go up. I mean it was 250 which trying to work out what price to put to that. That will stay up I think for three or four years while we whilst we recoup our investment and then it will start going down again. And I think ultimately you know we could be talking you know in ten years time maybe forty or fifty thousand dollars to put somebody into space and that compared with of the 50 million dollars that it costs on the Russian space ship is anyway more affordable for a vast majority of people but obviously not affordable for everybody.
NANCY: Perhaps that's why we see so many billionaires chasing this business pursued. Of course you're not the only one we think of. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk. Jeff Bezos I understand is going neck to neck with you to get that first commercial space flight. Who's going to win?
BRANSON: We'll see. I don't think either of us. The safety is obviously number one priority. So neither of us are going to race to beat the other one. I think the reality is that is both of us are going to do extremely well at it because the amount of people that want to go to space is enormous. We're not going to be able to build enough space ships to satisfy demand. So, if we both went up at the same day that would be great.
NANCY: And when it comes to Elon Musk he obviously has his hands full today as well you would have noticed some of that scrutiny. He's come under both from the regulatory side and in the media altogether. I know you've referred to him as a friend before you share many professional ambitions as well. If you want to call you up, what advice would you give him?
BRANSON: I think he's maybe he needs to the art of delegation. You know it's important you know he's got to find time for himself. He's got to find time for his health and for his family. And you know he's a wonderfully creative person. Yeah but he shouldn't be getting very little sleep. He should find a fantastic team of people around him and still jump in on all the major issues. And you know I think the reason that I've had such an enjoyable life and a long life has been finding wonderful people to run our companies but on the on the key issues I can then get involved and so you know if I was to sit down with him I have talked to him about it. But I think that learning the art of delegation better would be his one flaw.
NANCY: Does it say something about the difficulties of going public? You've of course have dealt with businesses in the public and private sphere. Do you think entrepreneurs are looking at the same I may want to think twice?
BRANSON: I think that he you know, if got a public company if you decide to go public find a good managing director and a good chairman to run your public company and be the creative individual that he is. Then you don't have to put out tweets and things about public shareholders. You know leave the public game to people who you know enjoy the public game, he obviously doesn't enjoy it so clear the decks so that you can actually then concentrate on the creative side.
NANCY: Aside from facing the professional area and the two of you share is the hyper loop travel high speed trains if you can call it that you have Hyperloop One under the Virgin brand you've talked a lot about going in several areas. One country is India. You want to go and how close are you to getting that project up and running?
BRANSON: Very close. I mean the Indian government has given the go ahead for Mumbai to Pune. It's the busiest road in India. It takes five hours to drive down it. It's a nightmare. Lots of accidents. They've said we can build a Hyperloop right along the side of the road and cut the journey time down to just over half an hour. So that will start to be built next year and it will be the first sort of flagship Virgin Hyperloop that will be built anywhere in the world.
NANCY: And then after India what's next?
BRANSON: Once we've got the first fully running high speed Hyperloop in place. You know the demand is going to be gigantic. So Dubai, we're talking to them about connecting the new airport with the old airport. Saudi Arabia where we're in discussions about happily going through the desert. But you know that I think it's a business. I think she's got a fantastic future.
NANCY: You know yet what a ticket will cost to get onboard.
BRANSON: It will be no more than a high speed train line ticket. And you know potentially we'll be able to bring the price down further than that.
NANCY: Since we're talking transportation. I do want to talk to you about this idea of the return of supersonic travel. Is that something we're going to see anytime soon?
BRANSON: Yes I mean I think Virgin Galactic is the only space company that is actually building up space ships shaped as airplanes. And once we've got Virgin Galactic fully bedded down we want to move on to dealing with high-speed travel and maybe working with Boom or working in competition with Boom. But you know I think you will see a high speed travel back again.
NANCY: And how quickly then can I get from here in Singapore to the east coast in the U.S.?
BRANSON: Well it depends. I mean obviously what would be wonderful is if we could actually put you into space and then bring you back down again. The only problem is I am not sure that everybody's body will be equipped for that. You'll be traveling at 70 and a half thousand miles an hour. So your journey time would only be half an hour. But the G forces coming back from some passengers may not work so I suspect we'll go suborbital just below space which would still halve the journey time maybe slightly more than halve the journey time.
NANCY: The business of transport among so many other things. Climate change is a big concern to you. At the moment, there was quite a damaging report coming out from the IPCC this week. How concerned are you about the current effort to tackle climate change?
BRANSON: The IPCC report was one of the most damning reports I've ever read. Terrifying. I mean we're talking about massive flooding and increased hurricanes, losing every single reef in the world and much quicker than they had estimated before. My feeling is that we need to take this as seriously as the world did when Hitler started the second world war. We need to get all the countries together. We need to create a Marshall Plan for the world. And we need we need to jump on it. And I believe that the private sector and government can work together on working out a Marshall Plan to solve this problem. We will solve it. Last week, we announced that Virgin Atlantic that we were flying one of our planes on fuel that was this week's going up the chimney of aluminum plants and steel plants into the atmosphere and we were actually taking that chimney waste and turning it into jet aviation fuel with a company called LanzaTech. Now if every single steel mills aluminum mill were converted, 50 percent of all planes in the world would run on recycled fuel. And so governments and the private sector need to sit down and let's work out how it can be done and that solves the problem and make sure the world doesn't face a disaster.
NANCY: When you draw comparisons to the Marshall Plan I want to what extent we need U.S. leadership. You have lamented about President Trump's decision on the Paris deal. Have you thought about appealing to him directly? I know you've exchanged letters in the past. What would your message be to the President?
BRANSON: Look I think that he's just got to start believing in science. And when you've got a thousand scientists being so clear cut you can't ignore them. I mean you know even if it's just as an insurance policy I mean you just can't ignore them. And so I don't think President Trump would listen to me but you know somebody should appeal to him. Fortunately in America, most of the major states realize we have a big problem - California obviously leading the way in showing how it can be done. And if we're not going to get leadership from the White House we've got to get leadership from the states that the rest of the world must not wait. I mean climate doesn't respect borders and the rest of the world is going to have to rally together to get on top of the problem.
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