European navigation agency lands substantial sums for Czech capital

Photo: GSA

Prague’s sole European agency, an offshoot of the Galileo navigation system, has brought 1 billion crowns worth of benefits to the Czech capital during its short stay. But major questions are still circling the economic viability of the whole project.

Photo: GSA
Around 1 billion crowns. That’s the total benefit that siting the Czech Republic’s - at the moment sole European agency - the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GNSS), in Prague has brought to the country over the past five years.

Given the recent rebuff for Prague’s bid to land the much bigger European Banking Authority – which will now be sited in Paris following Brexit – the figures are fairly timely. The Czech sited agency is a fairly minor one with GNSS just being one branch responsible for the roll-out of the European civil satellite navigation system.

Essentially, the Prague agency – employing around 200 – deals with the programmes that will turn the satellite network and signals into applications can be used by companies and the public at large.

Many of the applications should be in the transport sector, ranging from siting ships at sea, aircraft in the skies, trains on tracks, and befuddled tourists in foreign cities. And the Prague office has a key role in keeping the would be major customers up to date about technical specifications and roll-out deadlines so that they prepare to use the service.

Some of the Galileo services are already on offer although the full network of 30 satellites circling the earth is not yet completed. The full service should be up and running in 2019. Galileo bosses proudly announce that all the major smart phone companies worldwide have already made sure that their phones can offer Galileo using applications.

One of the main benefits of the Prague office is not so much the tangible direct and indirect jobs that have come but the fact that it’s now on the doorstep for many Czech companies. Karel Dobeš, the government appoint point man to deal with the European agency, says the number of Czech firms that are now getting research and development funds linked to navigation services has increased 10-fold. He says 44 Czech companies are directly active in the sector.

The agency’s added value – with a regular throughput of foreign contractors, companies and experts through Prague – means that Czech companies can better form partnerships and plug into possible research and development funds, Dobeš adds.

But the wider questions about the Galileo project and whether it can elbow its way into a market already dominated by the long running, if perhaps not quite so accurate, US GPS system are still circling. And Galileo and GNSS bosses have admitted that they are looking again whether a fee paying model for use of the navigation and positioning will really get off the ground in the face of the international competition. Some key decisions with regard to that should be taken over the next three months.