Thales Alenia Space Pledges To Rebuild Earthquake-Struck Plant

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L’AQUILA, Italy — Thales Alenia Space has promised government authorities it will rebuild the satellite-component plant destroyed by the April 6 earthquake here despite the fact that the Italian government has yet to commit to helping with the rebuilding, company officials said here July 21.

The French-Italian company said it has already released about 30 million euros ($42 million) in funds for the first phase of the reconstruction, which consists in part in demolishing buildings that the 6.3-magnitude earthquake left standing but too fragile to inhabit.

In the meantime, some 200 satellite engineers and other company employees have been moved to Rome on a temporary basis, while 89 have remained here despite the fact that a large percentage of the area’s residential dwellings were destroyed in the earthquake, which killed nearly 300 people and caused an estimated 10 billion euros in property damage.

Luigi Pasquali, Thales Alenia Space’s deputy chief executive and head of the company’s Italian branch, told a press briefing here that the company’s total reconstruction investment could not be estimated until national and regional Italian government authorities made clear their own rebuilding plans.

Thales Alenia Space Chief Executive Reynald Seznec said in an interview that the company decided within two weeks of the earthquake that it would rebuild in the area, although it is considering an alternative site nearby the current one for the new facility.

Seznec conceded that from a strict business-risk perspective, it may have been more prudent to use the earthquake as an opportunity to move the facility to a less earthquake-prone locale.

“That was an option, but our obligations here go beyond what you can calculate in that way,” Seznec said. “We have obligations to our employees who live here, and we have obligations to the region that has hosted this facility for years. You can’t just pick up and move in a situation like this. And of course we can always hope that this tragedy was a once-in-a-century event.”

Seznec said that thanks to what he called “heroic work” on the part of the company’s employees in the hours after the earthquake, almost all of the satellite components that were inside the L’Aquila plant were removed before earthquake aftershocks – which continue in less-dramatic form to this day – made the buildings too dangerous to enter.

Some 25,000 people whose homes were destroyed are still living in tents here, with thousands more relocated to area hotels, all waiting for the reconstruction effort to take hold.

L’Aquila Mayor Massimo Cialente told the press briefing that he has asked Thales Alenia Space to be patient, and that local, regional and national financial aid for reconstruction will arrive. As is the case with reconstruction permits, he said, “It takes time for this to work through the full approval process.”

The University of L’Aquila and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) have both agreed to use the occasion of the Thales Alenia Space rebuilding effort to announce joint projects on space microelectronics.

ASI President Enrico Saggese said the agency wants to make L’Aquila a hub of competence in Italy for satellite radar technology, which Italy has made an investment priority, and which Thales Alenia Space has been able to convert into ASI, European Space Agency and commercial contracts.

Seznec said he is counting on these investments to generate synergies with the company’s own investment. But for the moment, he said: “The amount of the Italian government investment in rebuilding remains a question mark.”