Eutelsat tells Ariane to back off

Written by Chris Forrester

Sunday, 29 March 2009 10:00

Eutelsat’s chairman and CEO Giuliano Berretta was said to be angered by the comments made by Arianespace boss Jean-Yves Le Gall at last week’s Washington DC satellite show. Le Gall argued that Eutelsat should not have chosen a Chinese rocket launcher for an upcoming satellite launch (W3C). By implication, Le Gall had seemed to be suggesting that it was not patriotic for Paris-based Eutelsat to go with the Chinese.

"There are certain customers who seem to be intent on looking for cheaper launch service players, even newcomers such as China," Le Gall said. "There is a question on the real value of such policies, especially when the satellite operators themselves are earning quite a lot of money. From Arianespace's point of view, the readiness to launch, and our flight-proven solutions, remain the keys to success.”

Eutelsat’s deputy CEO Jean-Paul Brillaud said on March 26 that the main factor in choosing China’s Long March rocket was its launch date guarantee. There was also "a question of price," Brillaud told AFP, adding that Ariane "has significantly raised its prices." See Rapid TV News’ story of March 26 for the full background to the story.

It was also clear at the conference that Eutelsat gained a great deal of sympathy for its approach, and recognition, that profit – or at least saving cash – and shareholders count. Many delegates were also surprised that Ariane, which counts Eutelsat as one of its very biggest customers, should so publicly criticise a client.

Indeed, the overwhelming comments from the ‘big four’ satellite operators at the conference (Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat, and Telesat) was that the USA should be significantly more flexible in allowing satellites built with US-supplied components to be launched by China, and other emerging rocket-builders like India, Japan and others, and thus generate more active competition in the launch sector. Currently there are two mainstream launch providers in the shape of Arianespace and Russia’s Proton.