ABS Mulls Options for Further Fleet Growth

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Satellite operator Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) of Hong Kong has postponed a decision on purchasing the planned ABS-2 satellite as it evaluates fresh expansion possibilities offered by the company’s late-2009 purchase of the Agila-2 satellite from Mabuhay Satellite Co. of the Philippines, ABS Chief Financial Officer Willy Chow said.

ABS has expanded its fleet from a single satellite, ABS-1 at 75 degrees east, to four spacecraft following three acquisitions in the past nine months.

The purchase of Agila-2, renamed ABS-5, and recent deals with Paris-based Eutelsat for the aging Eurobird-4 satellite (ABS-1B) and the previous purchase of the Koreasat-2 satellite (ABS-1A), have transformed ABS into a company with a total of 118 usable transponders.

Agila-2/ABS-5, launched in August 1997 and operated at 146 degrees east, is carrying enough business for ABS to consider whether to replace it in orbit before investing in an ABS-2 satellite at the company’s core slot of 75 degrees east.

Chow said March 2 that the company is still targeting the launch of both ABS-2 and an Agila-2 replacement, to be called ABS-6, in 2012. But he conceded that fulfilling those plans would be challenging.

ABS signed initial ABS-2 agreements in mid-2009 with satellite manufacturer Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and with Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium. Chow said ABS-2 still could be launched in 2012 under a 30-month construction contract with Loral, but that ABS is still negotiating with the U.S. and French export-credit agencies on a financial package.

The question now is whether to place the priority on reinforcing the 75 degrees east orbital slot with ABS-2, or to secure the continuity of the Agila-2/ABS-5 customer base with an ABS-6 satellite. “The acquisition of Mabuhay is complicating things,” Chow said. “The satellite has a good customer base and we’d like to put a replacement satellite there. The ABS-2 is still in the pipeline, and we have to decide on our path.”

Chow said ABS, owned by Citigroup Venture Capital International, ADM Capital and ABS’s founders, forecasts $70 million in revenue for 2010.