Panasonic Corporation
Panasonic Corp. of Japan disclosed Feb. 2. that its Panasonic Avionics business headquartered in California was the subject of a U.S. corruption and securities probe. Credit: Business Wire

WASHINGTON — Global in-flight connectivity provider Panasonic Avionics of California is the subject of a U.S. corruption and securities probe, parent company Panasonic Corp. of Japan disclosed Feb. 2.

The probe comes as many airlines are making long-term decisions on in-flight connectivity providers.

Panasonic disclosed the probe the same day the company announced the immediate departures of Panasonic Avionics CEO Paul Margis and Chief Financial Officer Paul Bottiaux. They’ve been replaced by Hideo Nakano, who was deputy CEO, and Seigo Tada, who takes over as CFO while retaining his financial controller role at Panasonic North America.

Panasonic said the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating Panasonic Avionics under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other securities related laws.

“Panasonic has been cooperating with the authorities, and has recently engaged in discussions with the DOJ and SEC with a view towards resolving the matter,” Panasonic Corp. said in a Dec. 2 statement. “Currently it is not possible to make a reasonable estimate of the specific impact of this issue on Panasonic’s consolidated financial results. Further information requiring disclosure will be provided at the appropriate time.”

Panasonic Avionics did not respond to a SpaceNews request for comment.

Panasonic Avionics is one of the top providers of satellite-based inflight entertainment and connectivity services, with approximately 70 percent of the seat-back entertainment market and an estimated 1,300 aircraft equipped for its in-flight connectivity service, plus 2,200 aircraft waiting for installation, according Giles Thorne, an analyst with Jefferies International Equity.

That makes Panasonic Avionics the world’s second largest in-flight connectivity provider behind Gogo’s 2,629 aircraft and ahead of Global Eagle and ViaSat, which provide in-flight connectivity for 776 and 533 aircraft, respectively, according to Thorne. Inmarsat, also among the top providers, does not disclose its number of installed aircraft.

Thorne, in a Feb. 2 research note sent to investors, said the federal probe “could stall [Panasonic Avionics’] commercial momentum.”

“This is a critical point in the cycle given decisions made now on service providers will likely set the direction of the market for the next 5-10 years” Thorne wrote.

Panasonic Avionics has been purchasing large quantities of satellite capacity from satellite operators around the world, including Luxembourg-based Intelsat and SES, France-based Eutelsat and Canada’s Telesat, and has a memorandum of understanding with Yahsat in the United Arab Emirates to jointly explore a future satellite constellation covering the Middle East.

Thorne said the federal probe could also make waves for Panasonic’s maritime business.

“It’s also worth noting this could impact [Panasonic Avionics’] maritime ambitions,” he said, noting that the company “had also pushed more heavily into maritime of late” with its March 2015 purchase of remote-connectivity provider ITC Global, expanding its portfolio to include the maritime, energy and mining markets. The company also has a distribution agreement with SES and an antenna agreement with Kymeta.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...