Errant Virgin boss drops balloon sponsor in it

Satphone outfit ICO Global may not be flavour of the month in China

Somewhere over Tibet today world-famous people's capitalist Richard Branson has a problem. The stunt-happy Virgin boss is engaged in his umpteenth attempt to fly round the world by balloon, and this time is in trouble with the Chinese. It's obviously a bit nerve-racking for Branson, but in a large building somewhere in London it must also be a worry for the outfit with its name on the gas-bag -- ICO Global. The statutory crisis is now traditional for each and every one of Branson's stunts. The boat breaks, the balloon escapes, a heroic crewperson saves everybody's life by shimmying up to let some gas out, whatever. But this one's a cracker. Flying a little more tot the north to avoid storms in the Med and then Iraq, the balloon strayed into restricted military airspace over Tibet. It didn't have permission from the Chinese, and earlier this morning China said that not only was it not going to get permission, but that it was being ordered to land. At time of writing the balloon was still airborne, and no doubt the Chinese are starting to get a little cross. With a bit of luck, they won't shoot it down. But they might look at the logo and put two and two together. ICO Global is the outfit that's running the satellite phone spin-off of Inmarsat. In order to make these kinds of operations work, it's necessary to strike deals that allow world-wide coverage, which means you've got to do business with some rather ticklish governments. Like the Chinese one, for example. But a goddam balloon with your name on it is currently wandering across a super-secret military area. Oh dear... ®

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