UPDATED Feb. 8, 10:12 EDT

PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Arabsat of Saudi Arabia has purchased Greek operator HellasSat for 208 million euros ($281 million) in a transaction that turns the tables on recent years’ practice in which European satellite fleet owners have targeted the Middle East, Arabsat announced Feb. 7.

Europe’s two biggest fleet owners, SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris, both had expressed interest in HellasSat, whose HellasSat-2 satellite, launched in May 2003, operates at 39 degrees east. The frequencies at the slot are controlled by Greece and by the Republic of Cyprus.

HellasSat owner OTE, the Hellenic Telecommunications Co., had been talking about selling HellasSat for a couple of years without organizing an auction.

Arabsat had said it wanted to use the 39 degrees east position as a springboard to growth in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The sale to Arabsat “ensures the best possible and advantageous terms while adding value to all shareholders,” OTE Chief Executive Michael Tsamaz said in a Feb. 7 statement. “The Greek and Cyprus governments partner with a reputable operator, who can undertake the necessary investments to retain the sovereign rights of Greece and Cyprus in space, and safeguard their position as spacefaring nations.”

OTE said it would receive 7 million euros as dividends in the transaction in addition to the 208 million euros.

While several operators have said the 39 degrees east orbital slot has multiple growth opportunities, they also said any buyer would need to proceed with a capital expenditure program almost immediately given the age of HellasSat-2.

OTE said one of the advantages in selling to Arabsat is that the Saudi operator has demonstrated “a keen interest to develop further its presence in the economies of Greece and Cyprus. OTE divests HellasSat at a satisfactory price, allowing us to focus on our core business.”

Arabsat said the purchase will assist Arabsat in reaching its ambitious growth targets.

“In 2012, Arabsat has presented … its vision to move from regional to global and to become one of the top five satellite operators in the world by 2020,” Arabsat Chief Executive Khalid A. Balkheyour said in a statement announcing the HellasSat acquisition. “This transaction, in addition to the new 6th-generation program encompassing the design, manufacture and launch of three new satellites from now until 2016, proves that Arabsat is on the right track to achieve its vision.”

Balkheyour said Arabsat expects the transaction to clear regulatory approvals this spring and that the company would immediately move to build a HellasSat-3 satellite for 39 degrees east. He said he envisions HellasSat-3 as “one of the largest satellites in Europe.”

HellasSat reported revenue of 31 million euros in 2012 and an EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — of about 22.5 million euros, according to OTE.

The transaction includes a payment of 157 million euros plus 53.4 million euros that represents HellasSat’s estimated cash position when the sale closes.

Arabsat said HellasSat-2, which covers Europe, the Middle East and South Africa, has some 2.5 million antennas pointed to it.

Arabsat said it would own 99.05 percent of HellasSat.

OTE said the Hellenic Aerospace Industry, would retain a minority share of the Greek operator “along with its pre-emption rights as per the articles of association of HellasSat.”

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews.