The COVID-19 Coronavirus might have shaken the daily lives world over, but there is no let-up in UNIFIL operational activities in south Lebanon. By adopting full precautionary measures put in place by the Mission from the very beginning of the outbreak, UNIFIL peacekeepers continue their work round the clock.
One of such UNIFIL units is the Task Force ITALAIR, which forms the Mission’s helicopters component. Italian peacekeepers of this unit patrol and monitor UNIFIL’s vast area of operations, and provide transport and emergency evacuation supports when needed.
ITALAIR assets are vital to ensure that UNIFIL peacekeepers have the support and mobility they need on the ground.
Its flight squadron commander, Captain Giuseppe Genovese, is proudly serving the Mission for the second time in the past years – this time with bigger responsibilities.
“I have an enormous responsibility this second time around, as I now manage all helicopters, and its crew for all missions we conduct,” he said. “I feel very proud to be serving with the UN again with a stronger role.”
Equipped with 6 AB 212 twin-turbine helicopters and 46 Italian military personnel at the moment, ITALAIR has been supporting daily air and ground operations since July 1979, a year after UNIFIL itself was established. These helicopters have day and night flight capabilities, a self-protection system and an estimated flight range of almost two hours.
“Extremely unique capability indeed,” according to Major Antonio D’Anna, an ITALAIR pilot serving UNIFIL for the sixth time. For Major D’Anna, his passion for flying and serving with the Mission is driven by a gratifying experience in the air while serving for peace.
“I have spent in the last nine years, more or less, three years of my life here serving in south Lebanon, and I am deeply proud and committed to do so, because I can give my contribution to bring peace and stability to this part of the world, and most of all, to help the Lebanese people,” said Maj. D’Anna.
He said the most fulfilling and inspiring part of this experience are the unique challenges that come from flying in such a beautiful landscape and the country such as Lebanon. “When I am on duty, flying in the south of Lebanon, I witness every day, the beauty of this vast land that truly deserves to find sustainable peace,” he concluded.
Lt. Sebastiano Colopi, UNIFIL ITALAIR Task Force Maintenance Chief, has also joined the Mission for the second time, now with greater levels of responsibilities.
“With this new role with increased responsibilities of authorizing each flight, I am constantly thinking about the safety and compliance of the helicopters, but also and first of all about the safety of our pilots, our technicians and our passengers,” he explained.
He is proud about what ITALAIR has achieved. “Especially, because with our work, we are able to bring some peace and stability to the population of south Lebanon, whom have gone through many wars in the past,” he added.
In its nearly 41 years of service in south Lebanon, ITALAIR has completed approximately 43,000 flight hours, transported 175,100 passengers, carried out 1,275 medical evacuations for a total of 49,750 flight missions (as at 25 March 2020).
Italy is the second major contributor of troops to UNIFIL with some 1,100 peacekeepers deployed to support the Mission’s mandate.