Avanti Eager To Launch New Satellites Despite Low Fill Rates 

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Avanti Communications Group on May 12 said its three-satellite fleet, principally the Hylas 1 and Hylas 2 satellites launched in November 2010 and August 2012, were between 15 percent and 20 percent full during the three months ending March 31.

Despite this relatively low utilization, London-based Avanti said it was in a hurry to launch its Avanti 3 and Avanti 4 satellites as soon as possible “to prevent [the company] from being capacity constrained, in addition to addressing new markets.”

In a statement to shareholders, Avanti said revenue for the nine months ending March 31 from its three satellites totaled $48.9 million, up 26 percent over the same period a year ago.

At constant currency-exchange rates — which would remove the effect of the strengthened U.S. dollar during the period — Avanti said its revenue increase was 54.5 percent after one-time items. These items a year ago included revenue from a European Space Agency grant, apparently related to Avanti’s purchase of the agency’s Artemis data-relay satellite.

Avanti’s fiscal year ends June 30. The company had told investors in February that the unexpectedly poor revenue performance for the six months ending Dec. 31 would reverse later in the year.

Avanti in February reported six-month revenue, to Dec. 31, of $31.1 million. The implied performance for the three months ending March 31 was $17.8 million. Avanti said the three-month figure resulted in an EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, of $1.6 million. The company reported an EBITDA loss for the first six months of is fiscal year.

The company said its backlog as of March 31 was $415 million, up 1.2 percent from Dec. 31. But the company advised investors not to pay much attention to backlog as the company is signing contracts that are not the standard fixed long-term commitments common to the industry.

“The usefulness of this metric has reduced as Avanti has moved towards selling through framework contracts, under which customers start with low initial capacity commitments, but typically increase these on a regular basis,” Avanti said. “Thus the business more closely resembles a telecoms company rather than a TV broadcasting business, and so backlog does not give a full indication of expected forward revenues.”

Avanti’s three satellites offer mainly Ka-band broadband links to government and enterprise customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Avanti’s Hylas 1, launched in November 2010, has a total of 3 gigahertz of throughput, Avanti said. Hylas 2, launched in August 2012, has 11 gigahertz. Artemis, which is nearing retirement, has 1 gigahertz, the company said.

The fill rate of 15-20 percent for the three months ending March 31 compares to 10-15 percent a year ago, the company said.

The company’s Hylas 4 satellite, under construction by Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, has 28 gigahertz of Ka-band capacity. It remains on schedule for an early 2017 launch aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket.

Hyas 3 is not an entire satellite but a Ka-band payload that Avanti is placing on a data-relay satellite being built by OHB SE of Bremen, Germany for Airbus Defence and Space. Airbus is managing a data-relay service for the European Space Agency and the European Commission and is responsible for the satellite’s manufacture and launch.

Hylas 3/EDRS-C’s schedule has slipped from 2016; the satellite is not expected to be ready for launch until 2017. Avanti said it is “working with the supplier to recover the schedule, and remaining capital expenditure payments have been deferred until launch.”

In early 2012 Avanti raised about 74 million British pounds ($110 million at current exchange rates) to finance its share of the Hylas 3/EDRS-C construction and launch.

In addition to providing fleet fill rates for the first time, Avanti told investors a key performance indicator for the company is what it calls Top-20 Customer Bandwidth Revenue Growth. This measures revenue from “Avanti’s current leading customers” on a rolling 12-month period. The company said revenue from these customers, which it did not quantify, was up 60.3 percent for the 12 months ending March 31 compared to the previous year.

Per-megahertz pricing has remained stable in all its markets, the company said, adding that it expects revenue growth to continue through the end of the current fiscal year and into 2016.