The partnership with Intelsat and Satcom Direct was strong in late 2018. Astronics‘ CEO Peter Gundermann described “a big tail mount opportunity to bring broadband worldwide connectivity to big business jets … and we’re optimistic and I will be very straightforward that a big part of our goal for next year or AeroSat in particular is heavily wrapped up in that program.” Alas, with the failure of Intelsat 29e just a couple months later that partnership fell apart. And, from there, so did Astronics’ antenna business to an extent.
While announcing a restructuring of the AeroSat division and losses measured in the tens of millions of dollars at the beginning of 2020 Gundermann noted, “We are giving everything we’ve got to this one [IFC antenna] program.” The effort in question, in partnership with SES and Collins Aerospace, recently hit some significant testing milestones.
The trio of partners have been running test flights with the system in recent weeks and are poised to announce successful initial results of those operations. Gundermann hoped the official announcement would be available prior to today’s earnings call but that didn’t happen. Still, he highlighted the potential for the program going forward:
From my understanding from the Collins perspective, they’re very enthusiastic about the program. And we think we’re onto something pretty good here. It’s still early in the commercialization stage but they’re flying ahead with STCs and things like that. So we’re pretty optimistic.
While the entire aerospace manufacturing industry is slowing down, with the trickle-down impact hitting suppliers like Astronics hard, this particular project looks to be somewhat insulated from those troubles. Gunderman continued, “The pandemic has negatively affected business jet production plans going forward. But aircraft utilization for the fractional guys, some of the biggest buyers of business jets, that’s up. So people who can want to fly private I guess for safety reasons. It’s not going to help us a whole lot in 2020, but it’s got a lot of promise for 2021.”
While plenty of potential remains for troubles in the market into 2021 the company is, at least for now, optimistic about the restructured AeroSat division and its potential with this business aviation opportunity.
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