Commercial launch of European Aviation Network moves to the right

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Updated to include additional comment from Inmarsat

Inmarsat’s plan to launch inflight connectivity via its hybrid ATG/S-band European Aviation Network (EAN) before the end of the year has moved to the right, with the company saying in a statement that it will commence commercial services “in the first half of 2018”.

As recently as last month, Inmarsat’s Leo Mondale was promising that the service launch was “imminent”, and a statement issued by Inmarsat this summer suggested a launch “in the second half of 2017”. UK-based British Airways is expected to launch the service.

In an interview with RGN this morning, Inmarsat VP of aviation strategy Frederik van Essen explained that the S-band satellite, which launched later than originally expected, “has certain dependencies” which has “pushed things a little to the right compared to our original planning but we’re still expecting the service to be ready and running by the end of the year. There is no changing … the messaging around that.

“What is confusing is when we have the service up and running, then we offer it. Our launch customer British Airways, part of IAG, still needs to put it on the aircraft, switch it on, [and] run trials. That is because the service is going to be ready by the end of the year. The part where IAG makes it available [to passengers] – that has moved to first half 2018 where we expect that to happen.”

The slight delay is not related to ViaSat’s legal efforts to stop the EAN based on alleged spectrum misuse, he said.

Thus far, ViaSat has advanced its legal actions against Belgium and the European Commission, and filed challenges with German and Italian regulators. The company also plans to sue Ofcom, after the UK communications regulator granted Inmarsat authorization to operate the EAN.

ViaSat argues that the ground portion of the hybrid ATG/S-band network “is supposed to be complementary to the satellite” not the primary means of transmitting data.

In a prepared statement to press, Inmarsat said,

The news that ViaSat is planning to take legal action against Ofcom comes as no surprise. ViaSat has made representations previously to the European Commission and failed. They presented similar arguments to Ofcom during last year’s UK consultation process and failed.

Having been unable to win with their previous arguments, they are now resorting to legal action in yet another an attempt to delay the launch of the European Aviation Network. We consider ViaSat’s claims to be entirely without merit and fundamentally misconceived.

Their strategy has had no impact on our preparations and we remain on course to commence commercial services with our launch customer in the first half of 2018. Inmarsat will vigorously defend its interests and stands ready to intervene in this process in support of Ofcom or any other regulator.

Meanwhile, Inmarsat reports it has successfully completed the first flight trials to test both the satellite and ground network for EAN.

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The company together with partners Deutsche Telekom, Cobham, Thales and Nokia used a Cessna 550 Citation II for the evaluation. The aircraft was flown across Germany, Belgium, France and Spain, covering approximately 5,000 km of European airspace.

“The recent flights demonstrated that EAN meets its design performance in practice; a significant milestone for the project consortium, as well as European airlines and their passengers,” stated Inmarsat.

Van Essen declined to disclose how many more licenses from individual EU member countries are needed, noting that it is “not in our interest to share” given that “ViaSat is doing its best to frustrate” the process.

He said Inmarsat is not planning a route-specific launch of the EAN, as it has no reason to believe its plan will be thwarted, despite ViaSat’s efforts.

Further flight trials on the Cessna 550 are scheduled over the coming weeks.

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