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What happens when gigabits of capacity goes offline? Passengers and inflight connectivity providers alike are about to find out. Intelsat 29e, the first of the Epic Ku-band High Throughput Satellites, suffered a fuel leak on 7 April 2019, followed by a second issue on 9 April. The satellite is in “safe mode” meaning all customer-facing services are disabled as the operator seeks to address the problems. This represents a significant cut to Ku-band capacity over the Americas and the North Atlantic Ocean.
Late on 7 April, the Intelsat 29e propulsion system experienced damage that caused a leak of the propellant on board the satellite resulting in a service disruption to customers on the satellite. While working to restore the services, on 9 April, the satellite experienced a second anomaly that caused a loss of communications to the satellite. Communication with the satellite has been intermittent. Intelsat continues to work with the satellite’s manufacturer, Boeing, on recovering communication. The Intelsat customer-facing team is focused on migrating customer services from Intelsat 29e to other Intelsat satellites serving the region, as well as third party services.
While all three major Ku-band inflight connectivity service providers hold or recently held capacity contracts on the Intelsat 29e bird. Panasonic Avionics (PAC) appears to be most exposed to the troubles.
PAC announced itself as an “anchor tenant” for Intelsat 29e, committing to purchase up to 1 gigabit per second of capacity on the satellite. The two companies worked together on the coverage and capacity, especially over the North Atlantic Ocean. With 160Mbps per spot beam and up to 80 Mbps to a single aircraft in a beam, the ability to serve PAC’s airline customers on the busy North Atlantic routes and to grow install fleet in that region will be impaired by the outage. A permanent loss of the satellite could have a particularly pointed impact on the ability to grow share in the TATL market.
Panasonic Avionics declined to comment on the specific exposure the company has with the 29e satellite, noting only that “Panasonic has designed its global communications network to seamlessly manage these kinds of situations and to ensure a consistent quality of service to our airline customers and their passengers even when these kinds of events occur.”
Gogo is the second provider that could see some impact from the satellite outage. The initial 29e contract between Gogo and Intelsat called for a significant capacity allocation initially but “transition to 32e when it becomes operational.” Gogo confirmed to PaxEx.Aero on Wednesday morning that it fully migrated away from the 29e satellite in 2017 to 32e.
Finally, Global Eagle also consumes capacity on the 29e satellite, though the impact to its aviation market is expected to be a non-issue. CEO Josh Marks tells PaxEx.Aero that the company has “minimal exposure on IS-29e” and that the satellite is not used for any aero customers. The exposure in maritime could affect overall revenues for Global Eagle but not as significantly as it appears PAC’s exposure is.
When it was just a fuel leak the overall impact of the issue seemed more significant to the long-term life of the satellite. Once the tank emptied it seemed likely that the satellite would be stabilized in its slot and return to service. The second issue, resulting in a loss of communications with the satellite makes that long-term outlook far less optimistic. The lack of significant new Ku-band satellites capacity for the Americas in the manufacturing queue today raises further questions about long-term growth for the mobility sector, including aviation and maritime.