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Virgin Hyperloop Lays Off Employees, Scratches Plans for Passenger Transport, Says Report

The Richard Branson-backed company that promised to shake up the future of transportation will now focus on freight, according to the Financial Times.

Virgin Hyperloop first human passenger test
Virgin's hyperloop efforts are shifting focus to cargo transport.
Virgin Hyperloop

Planning to travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in only 40 minutes in the future? You might have to scratch that plan. Virgin Hyperloop said it's abandoning its plans for developing a revolutionary, ultra-fast pod for passenger use and instead will focus solely on cargo, reported the Financial Times.

On Friday, Virgin Hyperloop, a Richard Branson-backed company, reportedly let 111 employees go. The layoffs were announced during a video conference, according to the Financial Times. The company told the Times that it's changing direction, responding to increased customer interest in cargo services.

The premise behind a hyperloop is as simple as it is startling – high-tech pods zooming through airless tubes at speeds of up to 670 miles per hour. It's based on Elon Musk's open-source idea for sustainable, high-speed travel. 

Virgin Hyperloop even built a prototype tube in the Nevada desert, just outside Las Vegas, to prove its vision could come to life. 

Before this pivot to freight, the company was hoping to have full certification for its hyperloop by 2025. Its passenger prototype, which was first tested with real passengers in 2020, had room for two people. The company said at the time the final pods would seat up to 28 passengers.

The layoffs, Virgin Hyperloop told the Financial Times, will allow the company to operate more efficiently and respond to global supply issues caused by the pandemic.

Futuristic passenger transportation isn't the first industry that's been affected by chain supply issues. From pickup trucks to smartphones, global chip shortages have slowed down supply chains across multiple industries around the world.      

In preparation for its strategic shift, Virgin Hyperloop in January announced the appointment of Pierre Chambion as vice president of engineering. Previously, the company said, he was was vice president of engineering at Safran, the world's second-largest airline equipment manufacturer.

Virgin Hyperloop said in a news release that it's looking to launch cargo transportation pilots by the mid-2020s.

"The world needs a viable solution to the current global supply issues and I am confident that we can make that happen,"  Chambion said in a statement. 

We've reached out to Virgin Hyperloop for comment and will update this story when we hear back.