A&O scoops role on Eutelsat’s bid for £2.34bn Galileo launch

Allen & Overy (A&O) has won a competitive tender to advise Eutelsat on its bid for one of the EU’s biggest ever satellite contracts for the €3.4bn (£2.34bn) launch and operation of the Galileo satellite navigation system, an EU alternative to the US-owned Global Positioning System (GPS).

An A&O team led by finance partner David Lee and telecoms and EU & competition partner Chris Watson pitched against a number of other City and magic circle firms.

The other top firms which advise in this sector are Clifford Chance, Denton Wilde Sapte, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith and to a lesser extent Linklaters, whose main telecoms partner Robyn Durie moved on last year.

Watson said: “There’s a lot of EU community law in the deal and we are also looking at an interesting finance structure.”

Bidders must provide private finance for the deal and project finance capacity would have been a key consideration for Eutelsat during the tender process. The combination of A&O’s finance and competition law capability would have been a factor in the firm’s appointment.

According to Watson, the telecoms sector has picked up significantly over the last few months. A&O also advised the senior lenders on the Ministry of Defence’s PFI contract for the Skynet 5 satellite communications system. The deal was the largest-ever PFI defence contract to close in the UK. Freshfields advised Paradigm secure communications, which will build the system, and Lovells advised its parent company EADS.

According to the EU’s Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, five consortia have placed bids to launch and operate Galileo. The new satellite system is politically crucial for the EU as many of the member states object on principle to relying on the US-run GPS system, particularly at a time of rocky relations between the US and the EU.

Eutelsat has teamed up with UK consultancy Logica and Spanish telecoms and satellite operator Hispasat. Meanwhile, rival bidder Inmarsat has teamed up with aerospace groups EADS and Thales.