Inmarsat is confident its European Aviation Network (EAN) satellite- and ground-based inflight connectivity system will still enter commercial service in the first half of 2018, even though a Belgian court recently ruled to rescind authorization to operate the service in Belgium.

But rival satellite company Viasat—which is taking legal action to prevent Inmarsat from using its S-band satellite to support EAN—sees the ruling as “an indication that stand-alone terrestrial use of the S-band simply is not what the European legislature intended,” and is hopeful that the service will be stopped in its tracks.

Frederik Van Essen, Inmarsat Aviation vice-president of strategy and business development, told Aviation Week last September that EAN launch customer International Airlines Group (IAG) was expected to make the service available to passengers toward the end of 2017. But this did not happen (AW&ST Oct. 2-15, 2017).

In February, Inmarsat’s EAN partner Deutsche Telekom announced it had completed the LTE ground network side of EAN, and said British Airways would launch the service in the first half of 2018.

Inmarsat said in a statement released after the Belgian court’s March ruling that EAN “remains on track.” Van Essen says that more precise launch dates “are at the discretion of our airline customers.”

In its latest statement on EAN, British Airways says: “IAG plans to equip in excess of 300 aircraft with the European Aviation Network and aims to have 90% of its short-haul fleet complete by early 2019.”

Inmarsat is confident that Belgian regulators will address what it describes as “procedural issues” and “expedite the reissuance of the authorization.”

The statement continues, “The decision by the Belgian judge was made purely on procedural grounds. It was due to the Belgian regulator not confirming in its decision that the complementary ground network complies with certain conditions within the European Commission framework.

“The complementary ground network does comply with these conditions and this has been confirmed by other regulators, including Ofcom in the UK and ARCEP in France,” says statement.

Van Essen says Inmarsat has now received “almost all of the necessary authorizations for the EAN network,” and is “confident that the last pending authorizations will arrive soon as well.” He adds that Viasat’s legal challenge “has not impacted this ongoing process.”

Van Essen adds, “The European Aviation Network is on track, and we believe that these claims are intended solely to undermine Inmarsat’s legitimate business interests and strengthen our competitors’ positions in the competitive tender processes currently under way with European airlines.

“Although at this point it is highly speculative to predict time frames against Viasat’s legal challenge, we are confident that the courts will ultimately reject Viasat’s claims against the regulators, and so we do not expect a knock-on impact on the commercial deployment of EAN.”

But its rival sees things differently. In a statement released in response to the Belgian court ruling, Doug Abts, vice president of Viasat’s global mobility division, says: “This ruling is an important step in a long process toward obtaining final clarity regarding the legality of the EAN. . . . We stand firm in our position that the EAN does not comply with various European Union and member state laws, and believe other courts will follow this ruling and require a thorough evaluation of whether EAN complies with the law.”

Whether this ongoing uncertainty is having an effect on European airlines’ decision-making processes on EAN is unclear. As it stands, IAG is the only customer to have been publicly announced so far. But Van Essen suggests that further announcements are likely to follow.

“Since EAN’s launch customer was announced last year, our focus has been on readying the network, completing aircraft installations and working toward the first commercial service to passengers,” he says.

“As we approach this milestone,” he adds, “we see increasing interest among operators in Europe for this innovative service. In combination with our highly secure cockpit services and our GX global broadband service, Inmarsat is the only inflight connectivity provider able to cover the connectivity needs for every combination of short-, medium- and long-haul fleets.

“As you can imagine, we aren’t at liberty to mention specific conversations at this stage, while we are in negotiations with future customers, but watch this space.”