Ministers reach agreement on funding and management issues almost three years after project's launch

European Union (EU) transport ministers have finally approved development funding and agreed management issues for Europe's Galileo satellite navigation project.

The approval, at a meeting on 26 March, comes almost three years after the launch of the project, designed to be the European equivalent of the US GPS.

European Commission (EC) transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio, who has been pushing EU members to commit to Galileo, says the 15 EU transport ministers ironed out their financial and management differences, which have delayed a final funding decision three times since December 2000 (Flight International, 5-11 March).

Ministers have asked the EC to set up a joint undertaking to manage the Є3 billion ($2.6 billion) programme "without delay" in co-operation with the European Space Agency (ESA) and to release Є450 million to finance the development phase of the 30-satellite system. Ministers also agreed that private companies could participate in the project from 2003 once the joint undertaking completes the tendering process for manufacture of the Galileo satellites and ground infrastructure development.

The Є450 million comes on top of Є100 million already earmarked by EU members in April 2001 and Є550 million approved by ESA - the latter dependent on EU transport ministers releasing their finance.

Europe's independent satellite navigation system is scheduled to be operational by 2008. De Palacio says this "hugely important project" would create some 150,000 jobs in Europe. It will also allow Europe to get a slice of the Є40 billion global satellite navigation market forecast by 2005.

De Palacio says discussions with the USA would be held "immediately" to address US military concerns, notably to avoid Galileo interfering with the GPS military signal. She stresses that Galileo's free services to the public will be comparable to GPS "but with a better quality of signal".

Source: Flight International