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By | April 25, 2001

      Having a second bite at the same cherry, the EU Transport Council met in Luxembourg three weeks ago to complete the job it botched late last December. Then, at a meeting that began after midnight on December 22, the Council agreed to defer the matter of the Galileo system until this month.

      Outstanding worries included uncertainty about the preferred management structure for creating Europe’s counterpart to the US military Global Positioning System, and a growing conviction that industry should invest at least something at an early stage. This would be difficult to justify to shareholders, since a return on this investment could not be expected before the Galileo system had been fully operational for some time: say by 2013.

      Eventually, by mid March, around a dozen companies had been persuaded to invest E200 million as an initial contribution. This will come primarily from the ‘preparatory consortia’. These are Galileo Industries (involving Alcatel Space, Alenia and Astrium) and Siderius (principally Telespazio and Thales, plus a clutch of Air Traffic Control organisations). This money could be ‘committed’ late this coming December but not actually spent until the end of 2003.

      Earlier, support for early private sector participation in Galileo had been strongest from the governments of the UK, Sweden, Germany and Austria. France, Italy and Spain had been more supportive of the system being started wholly at government expense. The Netherlands was a late convert to the private finance camp, saying that Galileo was unaffordable as a purely public venture.

      What was finally agreed at Luxembourg this month seems provisional enough. Over the coming months, the EC and ESA will put in place “a temporary management structure that will guarantee the general co-ordination of the programme”. This will be submitted to the signatory states this coming June. The following month, the European Parliament will be given its say. Also in June, a Request for Tenders should be issued for the development phase, with a return date by year-end.

      The Transport Ministers will be asked to accept the operating statutes of the new industrial companies (or consortia) to be created by October 6 this year. The next planned ESA ministerial level conference (to be held in Edinburgh on November 14 and 15) is expected to approve the entire project, including its financial proposals.

      Until then, the EC and ESA – plus private industry – have been allowed only E100 million to prepare for a public-private partnership that will begin the process of developing and delivering the Galileo system. Ten times this amount (E1bn), half each from the EC and ESA, should be unlocked for the full scale development phase that is set to begin on December 6. A ‘final’ Transport Commission meeting is scheduled to give the ultimate green light.

      By then the thorny question of military use of Galileo data should have been settled; officially, the answer is ‘None’ (Galileo is to be purely civilian), but there could be ‘Safety’ or ‘Emergency’ government uses that could fudge the issue.

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