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French court denies European Aviation Network challenge

TAMPA, Fla. — France’s highest court has rejected a legal challenge from Eutelsat against Inmarsat’s hybrid satellite and cellular European Aviation Network.

French satellite operator Eutelsat filed the challenge in 2018, arguing that the heavy use of EAN’s ground network is at odds with the intent of Inmarsat’s S-band license from the European Commission.

EAN pairs an air-to-ground network of cell towers with an S-band satellite payload to provide in-flight connectivity services across Europe.

The ruling from France’s Conseil d’Etat comes after the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which interprets European Union laws for member countries, dismissed a similar challenge April 15.

Eutelsat declined to comment on the court ruling.

“Inmarsat welcomes the ruling in the Conseil d’Etat upholding the legality of the authorization granted in France to operate the European Aviation Network,” an Inmarsat spokesperson said.

“EAN is an asset for Europe as a whole and it is proving very popular with passengers and airlines.”

U.K.-based Inmarsat unveiled multi-orbit plans July 29 that take the integrated satellite and ground network concept further.

The company said it is investing in a low Earth orbit satellite constellation called Orchestra that will use a terrestrial 5G network in areas of concentrated capacity demand.

Inmarsat plans to start deploying 150-175 LEO satellites for the Orchestra constellation in 2026 but still needs to secure regulatory rights. 

U.S. satellite operator Viasat, meanwhile, is continuing to pursue its legal action against EAN in Belgium, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Third time lucky for EchoStar

U.S.-based operator EchoStar, which uses S-band for voice and data mobile satellite services (MSS) across Europe and parts of Africa and the Middle East, announced a milestone Aug. 3 for extending the frequencies worldwide.

The company said it recently deployed a nanosatellite to secure its claim to a global S-band slot it was in danger of forfeiting after two previous placeholder nanosatellites suffered post-launch propulsion system failures. EchoStar was facing an Aug. 10 deadline to bring the slot into use or risk losing it under International Telecommunication Union (ITU) rules.

“The nano-satellite was successfully commissioned and placed at the altitude prescribed in our license for the S-band frequency,” the operator stated in its financial results, calling it “an important step in perfecting our rights to this spectrum.”

EchoStar Satellite Services President Anders Johnson detailed its global S-band frequency plans in a June interview with SpaceNews.

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