The GDiF Air Unit at Palermo-Boccadifalco Aerodrome forms part of the Servizio Aereo (Air Service) of the Guardia di Finanza and hierarchically depends on the Reparto Operativo Aeronavale di Palermo (R.O.A.N.).
Boccadifalco is located on the outskirts of the city of Palermo at about 118 meters above sea level at the foot of Mount Cuccio. The airport which is one of the oldest in the country, was inaugurated in 1931 with the landing of the first plane on a dirt runway. It was extensively used during World War II on a purely military connotation. Post-war, it was Palermo’s main airport and the third busiest in Italy. In 1960, with the opening of the new civil airport of Punta Raisi, Boccadifalco became more of a civil protection and general aviation aerodrome. The original site was under joint military–civil use until 1 January 2009, when the Italian aviation authority ENAC acquired sole use of the airport.
The Servizio Aereo (Air Service) of the Guardia di Finanza is responsible for conducting air surveillance, patrolling Italy’s borders, and supporting law enforcement activities. It also plays a critical role in responding to natural disasters and emergencies, conducting search and rescue operations, and providing air transportation for personnel and equipment.
The Servizio Aereo operates a fleet of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that are equipped with advanced surveillance and monitoring equipment. These aircraft assist the Guardia di Finanza to carry out their missions and conduct aerial surveillance of Italy’s land, sea, and air borders.
An air unit at Palermo was first constituted on May 21st 1956, when two Agusta-Bll AB-47Gs were assigned to the newly formed Servizio Aereo. The official handover of the helicopters and all the related activities to the Guardia di Finanza took place on the 24th of October, 1959.
The AB-47G remained in service at the Boccadifalco Aerodrome until the mid-1970’s when they were replaced by the Breda-Nardi NH500Ms. In 1996, the first twin-engined Agusta A 109AII arrived which was then later replaced by the more modern AgustaWestland AW 109N “Nexus” (MCH 109A).
Nowadays, the AW109 “Nexus” role is being taken over by the state-of-the-art Agusta-Westland UH-169A and PH-139D. The GDiF operates 20 PH-139Ds and has 24 UH-169s on order, 18 with skids and 6 with fixed landing gear. Currently, the air unit has a newly delivered PH-139D and an AW-109N Nexus which just a few flight hours left on the airframe, which will eventually either be replaced by another Nexus with more flight hours available or a PH-139D, depending on availabilities.
During our visit, the crew showed us around their hangar, giving us a brief history of their unit whilst explaining the mission equipment of their air assets. What we were truly impressed with was the ATOS (Airborne Tactical Observation and Surveillance) mission system integrated on the PH-139D. The ATOS manages all related sensors such as the high-performance (multi-mode/multi-mission) surveillance radar Gabbiano and the high-resolution electro-optical FLIR system with Moving Target Indicator fully integrated with the mission console which is capable of providing the crew with a clear tactical picture of their mission. The crew also kindly obliged to tow the helicopters out of the hangar for better photographic opportunities.
MAR would like to thank the Guardia di Finanza Sezione Aerea Palermo for having us and all the crew for their fantastic hospitality, and for answering all our questions and queries!