Mark Dankburg, chairman and CEO of Viasat announced that his company plans to launch the “next generation” Viasat-3 iteration of its satellite fleet, but Covid-19 is affecting the process and might delay things. A recent exercise in cash-raising has given extra opportunities to Viasat though.
“We are continuing to make good progress, but Covid-19 is creating some issues for us. Right now we are working on the payload integration and testing larger and larger subsets of payloads which are meeting our milestones.”
More accurate updates on the launch plans will be provided in a couple of months, Dankberg told analysts. Viasat is hoping that Boeing has been working on the delays so that a launch can happen in mid-2021.
There was a report that 2 major investors gave $175 million of new equity to Viasat. Dankberg responded by saying “there is a lot of opportunity and having an additional equity base allows for more maneuverability and room to deal with the opportunities.” He also said that “there are plenty of opportunities out there where this equity will help us.”
There were some hints for what Viasat might be wanting from Dankberg. He said “anything that would be helpful with defense, broadband services, and possibly something in the future with aeronautical business. There are also some opportunities to make value propositions in some of our markets that could be caused by some potential transactions. This is the theme we are looking for.”
Dankbery also thought that the new low earth Orbiting satellite projects, including Project Kuiper, that Jeff Bezos supported, would end up with higher bandwidth costs than geostationary satellites. “I think the cost of useful bandwidth is going to be much higher than it would be for GEO satellites. Therefore we think there is a strong advantage for us in the markets we are in. There should be a large amount of coverage in ocean areas before the LEO systems,too.”
Supplying bandwidth to airlines for their bandwidth and In-Flight connectivity is something he admitted was one part of Viasat that was under pressure. ”With everything going on right now, this is one of the most challenging times for commercial airlines and their customers. The steady progression out from the bottom of the market shows that it is going to get better sometime, it will just be slower than we want.
Dankberg said back in May, June and July that their demand was down 90%, 80% and 75% respectively. Since then it has been slowly improving as customers have come back. “The attention that airlines are paying to in-flight connectivity is important. It is probably even more important now for people to be connected while they are flying with everything that is happening.”
“Our airline customers come first, so anything that we schedule in detail will be whatever is convenient for them. Hopefully that is how we will be able to announce things. But the other point to mention is the other orders we were able to make before the pandemic are still intact, and we still plan on deploying them on the dates we agreed to and hopefully they go without an issue once the market picks up.”