Iridium thrives after restructuring

 - December 18, 2007, 7:22 AM

In 1999, Motorola’s ill-starred Iridium satcom venture declared bankruptcy and was on the verge of maneuvering the service’s 66 satellites to burn up in the atmosphere. Today, officials at the re-established satcom operation are promoting the company’s rapidly growing customer base and line of service offerings.

Since it resumed worldwide satcom services in April 2001, Iridium has expanded its user base to more than 100,000 subscribers, including 2,500 in the aviation market. Carmen Lloyd, Iridium chairman and CEO, said the company has consistently added 2,000 to 3,000 subscribers per month since the relaunch of commercial service.

Lloyd noted that the company’s operating revenue grew by more than 17 percent in the first half of this year, following last year’s record revenue increase of 44 percent over the previous year’s. He attributed this growth rate to a focus on key markets through the company’s partnerships with 44 major service providers and 17 “value-added” suppliers of satcom equipment and software, nine of which build aviation-specific hardware.

Among the most recent highlights of the company’s resurgence is the FAA go-ahead to General Dynamics C4 Systems to begin certification testing of Iridium-based satcom infrastructure in Alaska under the Capstone communications control system. Lloyd said a successful demonstration phase improved flight tracking and information exchange in remote areas lacking ground-based radar and radio coverage. He cited data from General Dynamics showing a 40-percent drop in the accident rate for operations in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta after the Capstone satcom demo began. While a good portion of this figure can be attributed to the advanced avionics that are part of the Capstone program, reliable communications have been a boon for commercial operators in the region.

At last month’s NBAA Convention, Iridium announced that Raytheon selected the Iridium-based AirCell ST3100 communications system as standard equipment on new King Air 350s and as a factory option on the King Air B200. NetJets has also ordered 50 AirCell Iridium satcom systems for its Hawker 400XP fleet.

Iridium recently outlined plans to replace aging satellites with new ones. If successful, the strategy should mean that service will be available for many years to come, according to Lloyd.