Press release

Transport visionary Will Whitehorn appointed as chair of the Transport Systems Catapult Board

Transport industry pioneer Will Whitehorn will spearhead innovation as chairman of the new Transport Systems Catapult.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Transport industry pioneer Will Whitehorn will spearhead innovation as chairman of the new Transport Systems Catapult.

The Catapult, a technology and innovation centre being set up by the Technology Strategy Board, will focus on innovation for efficient and sustainable ways to move people and goods across national transport systems including road, rail, sea and air. These products and services will help to ease congestion globally and prepare for the growing requirements for transport systems of the future.

Making the announcement, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

An efficient transport system that can move people and goods in a cost effective way is vital to the success of the UK economy. The Transport Systems Catapult will make sure that new and emerging ideas to improve transport systems can be pioneered here and exported across the globe.

Will Whitehorn is a real expert in the transport field, with years of experience and a vast amount of knowledge. He will be able to take forward the development of the Catapult and I look forward to seeing the positive impact it will have to transport systems across the UK and beyond.

Commenting on his appointment, Will Whitehorn said:

The UK’s transport industry and the many service companies that support it are a huge global success story. While facing real issues that arise from the rapid pace of modernisation at home the industry continues to operate infrastructure for tens of millions of customers every day. The Technology Strategy Board has shown real vision by setting up this Catapult as a centre of excellence for an industry that has the opportunity to be world-beater and able to give people in the UK an experience of travel that is world-class at the same time. I look forward to playing my part in turning that vision into a reality.

Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board said:

I am delighted that Will Whitehorn has accepted the position as chair of the Transport Systems Catapult. He brings a wealth of experience across the transport sector and his knowledge and networks will be invaluable as we establish this exciting new Catapult centre.

The Transport Systems Catapult will position the UK as the leading provider of innovative and integrated transport solutions to the rest of the world, estimated to be worth £900 billion by 2025.

Starting his new role on 1 March Mr Whitehorn will chair the board of the Transport Systems Catapult, set up to help grow the UK’s transport sector. He will assist the Technology Strategy Board to recruit a chief executive. Ongoing responsibilities will include ensuring the Catapult team meets its strategic objectives, agreed with the Technology Strategy Board, as well as ensuring good corporate governance for the organisation.

Mr Whitehorn is most recognised for his role at Virgin to establish the company’s original train franchise. More recently he was President of Virgin Galactic where he pioneered the concept of commercial spaceflight as the company looks to provide sub-orbital spaceflights to space tourists.

The Transport Systems Catapult is part of a network of world-leading technology and innovation centres established and overseen by the Technology Strategy Board as a long-term investment that will open up global opportunities for the UK and generate economic growth for the future. With investment from public and private sectors of around £1 billion over the coming few years, Catapults represent one of the most important developments in UK innovation and technology, and will make a major impact for years to come.

The Transport Systems Catapult will be active later this year.

Notes to Editors:

1.The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency. Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information please visit

2.Catapult centres are being established by the Technology Strategy Board, as a new addition to its range of programmes to stimulate innovation. They are places where the best of the UK’s innovative businesses and researchers work together to bring new products and services more quickly to commercialisation. Focusing on areas with great market potential, Catapults will open up global opportunities for the UK and generate economic growth for the future.

3.Mr. Whitehorn will bring with him over 30 years of experience in the travel and transport industry. His post-graduate employment saw him fly with British Airways Helicopters and work as a graduate trainee with Thomas Cook. He then joined Virgin Group in 1987, where he was pivotal in the early growth of Virgin Atlantic and went onto become brand development and corporate affairs director of the group. It was in this role that he led Virgin’s bid for its rail franchises in 1996 and then went on to become a Director of Virgin Rail Group. More recently he established and became the first president of Virgin Galactic, which plans to provide sub-orbital spaceflights to space tourists, satellite deployment and space science services.

On retiring from Virgin Group in 2011 he has gone on to several industry roles including a non executive directorship of Stagecoach Group PLC, the global transportation group, which carries over one billion customers a year on its networks in Europe and North America.

4.The Transport Systems Catapult will receive £17 million funding from the Department for Transport (DfT), which is in addition to the Technology Strategy Board contribution.

5.Current transport systems are under increasing pressure from the rise in population and transportation needs. UK businesses engaging with the Catapult will bring fully integrated transport systems to market quicker and with less overall risk.

6.The Technology Strategy Board will oversee the establishment of the Catapults. The High Value Manufacturing Catapult was the first to open, in October 2011. The other Catapult centres – Cell Therapy, Connected Digital Economy, Offshore Renewable Energy, Satellite Applications, Future Cities and Transport Systems – are currently being established.

7.Media enquiries about the Technology Strategy Board should be addressed to: David Hulmes, Media Relations, Technology Strategy Board, 07799 777921, or the media relations team: 07766 901150,

8.Companies and other organisations seeking information about Technology Strategy Board funding competitions should visit the Competitions page of the Technology Strategy Board website – Competitions page email or phone the Competitions Helpline at 0300 321 4357.

9.To see all press releases from the Technology Strategy Board please visit: Press Releases.

10.To subscribe to the Technology Strategy Board’s RSS newsfeed please visit: RSS newsfeed.

11.The government’s economic policy objective is to achieve ‘strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries’. It set four ambitions in the ‘Plan for Growth’ (PDF 1.7MB), published at Budget 2011:

  • To create the most competitive tax system in the G20
  • To make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business
  • To encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy
  • To create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe.

Work is underway across government to achieve these ambitions, including progress on more than 250 measures as part of the Growth Review. Developing an Industrial Strategy gives new impetus to this work by providing businesses, investors and the public with more clarity about the long-term direction in which the government wants the economy to travel.

Published 22 February 2013