* CEO says proud of contribution to MH370 search
* Says launch of new network on Russian rockets on track
* Q1 earnings up 7 pct (Adds CEO comments, shares)
By Paul Sandle
LONDON, May 7 (Reuters) - Inmarsat, the company whose satellites helped track the final route of missing flight MH370, said it made a strong start to the year, with adjusted core earnings for its main business rising 6.8 percent in the first quarter.
Chief Executive Rupert Pearce said the group had seen solid demand particularly from commercial shipping and aircraft, but normal business had been overshadowed by the search for the Malaysian airliner which lost contact with air traffic control on March 8.
Data from Inmarsat’s satellite network was analysed to deduce MH370’s flight path - despite the company’s systems not being operational on the aircraft - and was a major factor in the search switching to the southern Indian Ocean.
Pearce said the group’s experts worked on data to help find the aircraft, which had 239 passengers and crew on board. The Boeing 777 has still not been found.
“I am very proud of my engineers and everyone associated with our contribution to the investigation,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.
He said Inmarsat was ready to play its part by making available free data transfers for a position reporting service.
“We are ready to work in collaboration with the world’s regulators to adopt new standards and services that will make people feel very comfortable that this kind of MH370 disaster would not happen again,” he said.
Pearce said demand from commercial customers in shipping was “humming along”, with revenue up 6.2 percent. The air sector was also strong - up 20.2 percent - offsetting continued weakness in some of its government customers.
The group is building a new fast broadband network called Global Xpress (GX) which will drive an acceleration in growth in the coming years. It plans to launch two further satellites this year to complete the network.
The company’s shares fell last week on concerns that it would be affected by sanctions against Russia, where the rockets which carry its satellites into orbit are built.
Pearce said the commercial satellite industry was confident that the current sanctions imposed by the West on Russia over the situation in Ukraine would not have an impact on launches by Russia’s Proton rockets from Kazakhstan.
“We believe the current sanctions and restrictions do not and will not restrict or delay the launch of F2 and F3 (satellites),” he said.
“Therefore, we continue to believe GX will be global by the end of the year.”
Inmarsat, which provides communications for shipping, aircraft and land operations worldwide, posted adjusted earnings before tax, interest, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of $164.7 million on Wednesday, ahead of analysts’ expectations.
Revenue rose 9.9 percent to $344.7 million.
Shares in Inmarsat were trading up 0.2 percent at 728 pence at 1015 GMT after the results, which analysts at Citi described as “solid”.
Editing by Kate Holton