Italian Coast Guard base Catania Fontanarossa unveiled

On Aug. 31, 2012, the 2° Nucleo Aereo (Flight Group) of the Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard), based at the Catania-Fontanarossa airport (next to the famous trans-Mediterranean international hub), changed his Commanding Officer.

With a simple ceremony, Commander Andrea Vitali handed the command over to the new C.O., Capt. Rosario Capodicasa, who will have to manage the transformation of the unit.

In fact, the ITCG 2° Nucleo Aereo, which is seriously involved in the rescue duties within the Italian MRCC AOR (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre Area Of Responsibility), is also changing its equipment: it is dismissing the oldest assets, like the 30,000 hours-flown (since 1988) Piaggio P-166 DL-3 SEM “Orca” (Sorveglianza Ecologica Marittima, Maritime Ecologic Surveillance), and working hard with the new Piaggio P-180 CP planes and AW-139 CP “Nemo” helo (assigned to the 2^ Sezione Aerea).

During the ceremony, which took place inside the unit’s main hangar, visitors and media were given the opportunity to see all the flight lines of the ITCG aviation. Indeed, the 2° Nucleo is the only one which flies all the Corps assets: the ATR-42 MP “Manta” (where “MP” stands for “Multi Purpose” and not for “Maritime Patrol”, as someone could guess), the P-166 DL-3 SEM “Orca”, P-180 CP, AB-412 CP “Koala” and AW-139 CP “Nemo” (with the helos operating within the 2^ Sezione Aerea).

All these assets are assigned to Search And Rescue duties, using the planes for long-range / endurance search missions, and the choppers for short-range / high-readiness rescue missions.

The ATR-42 MP, a twin turboprop 22-mt long patroller, is a multi-sensor platform, capable to fly in bad weather conditions and make a 6-hours reconnaissance. It is equipped with a weather radar, one main research radar, two SLARs (Side-Looking Airborne Radar), along both sides of the tail, one EO/IR Tower (Electro-Optical / Infra-Red) and a powerful search light pod, both mounted under the right side of the fuselage.

The seven people-crew is divided into 5 roles: one Mission commander, two pilots, two systems operators (radars / tower), one TACCO (Tactical Coordinator) and two observers. They work together adding up all systems’ contributions, using radars to discover the targets, the tower to zoom on them and the observers to give a visual confirmation. It often flies at low altitudes over the sea (about 500 ft) and adopts some search schemes fitted for specific kinds of emergency, consisting of a series of straight routes on the areas where probability to find targets is higher.

When targets are finally observed, the TACCO can coordinate a rescue intervention involving also civilian merchant ships in the area or launching inflatable life raft and first aid equipments. The ATR-42 MP is fitted also for anti-pollution (radar surveillance) missions, which is the main mission for P-166 DL-3 SEM, equipped with the hyperspectral high resolution CASI-1500 (Compact Airborne Spectrographic Imager) surveillance system, capable of 1,500 pixels 3D imaging (with a maximum resolution of 25 cm), and for the newest full digital (flies with only 3 crew members) P-180 CP with an EO/IR tower.

The Rescue mission is assigned to choppers, because of their hovering and vertical extraction capabilities. In fact, there is always a flight-ready helo on the parking area of the unit and a pre-alerted crew (formed by two pilots, one system operator, one winch operator and one rescuer) waiting in the crew room, while two other helos/crews are available to be ready-in-30 minutes, for any time-extended mission.

The ITCG helos are capable of complex rescue missions, like the “Concordia” and “Gelso-M” operations, during those several dozen survivors have been saved. The helos were also recently equipped with NVGs (Night Vision Goggles) and the crews are going to be qualified for night missions, while the AW-139 CP search light has been provided with an IR filter, allowing the simultaneous NVG / light visual search.

Obviously, with more than 7,000 km of coasts and the huge SAR area within the Mediterranean Sea under its control, the Italian Coast Guard is one of the main European organizations responsible for the safeguard of the “human life at sea”.