In the heart of Boccadifalco, Palermo, the 4° Reparto Volo (4th Flight Department) of the Italian Police operates with unwavering dedication to maintain law and order across the vast expanse of Sicily and Italy’s southernmost isles, such as Lampedusa, Linosa and Pantelleria. During an exclusive visit to their premises, our team of journalists, accompanied by Chief of Operations Paolo Burgarella and Chief Pilot Dr. Antonio Molinaro, who is also the current Commander of the Flight Department, were able to witness first-hand the impressive work carried out by this aviation division.
At Palermo–Boccadifalco Airport (ICAO: LICP), the 4th Flight Department, which has been operating from here since the 20th of August 1974, shares the airport’s facilities with the Flight Division of the Guardia di Finanza, the 9th Carabinieri Helicopter Unit, the Air Ambulance Rescue Service, the State Forestry Corps and the Aero Club of Palermo. The original site was under joint military–civil use up until the 1st of January 2009, when the Italian National Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) acquired sole use of the airport.
The 4th Flight Department holds the critical responsibility of maintaining aerial surveillance, rapid response, and support for law enforcement operations, covering a vast area of strategic importance. The 4th flight department is furthermore part of the more complex system of fighting illegal migration in strong cooperation with the European Agency, Frontex. There are currently 47 personnel assigned to this unit including pilots, mechanics, specialists, and civilian employees. Such a workforce is required to tackle the vast daily operations and assignments for this department. The rugged terrain, diverse coastline, and frequent maritime activities in these regions also necessitate a versatile and reliable airborne asset to be operated by the personnel of the flight division, and their current workhorse, the AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter, perfectly fits the bill.
The AgustaWestland AW139 boasts an array of advanced features that make it ideally suited for the tasks undertaken by the unit. Its agile maneuverability, advanced avionics, and powerful engines enable the helicopter to conduct territory control operations with precision and vigilance. From monitoring and patrolling expansive landscapes, to conducting aerial surveillance in densely populated areas, the AW139 ensures a strong police presence, acting as a deterrent against criminal activities. Furthermore, the helicopter plays a crucial role in supporting the judicial police, assisting in the transportation of suspects and evidence. Its spacious cabin allows for secure and efficient prisoner transport, ensuring the swift and safe delivery of individuals to the appropriate authorities.
Public order is another key focus of the 4th Flight Department’s operations. The AW139 serves as a highly visible platform, enabling rapid deployment of law enforcement personnel to maintain order during large scale events, demonstrations, or protests. The helicopter’s aerial vantage point allows for real-time monitoring and assessment of potential security threats, facilitating timely interventions to ensure public safety.
In addition to these roles, the AW139 is also a vital asset in search and rescue operations. Sicily’s rugged terrain and proximity to the sea present unique challenges in emergency situations. Equipped with state of-the-art search and rescue equipment, the AW139 enhances the department’s ability to locate and extract individuals in distress and it also allows the flight division to assist The National Alpine Cliff and Cave Rescue Corps (C.N.S.A.S) with flight rescue and medical assistance in mountainous regions and remote locations.
The Department currently has one active AW139 assigned to their unit. Using the callsign “POLI109” this helicopter is the UH-139C variant of the base AW139 model. This variant of AW139, which was specially designed for the Italian Police, includes a high-definition latest generation FLIR, satellite communication system, searchlight, rescue hoist, cabin mission console, and an advanced HD video down link. The Flight Division had previously utilised the Agusta-Bell 206 Jet Ranger, Agusta 109 and Augusta Bell 212 models for their operations, however, these helicopter variants were all limited in operational capability, flight time, and even cabin space when compared to the UH-139C.
Throughout our visit, we were presented with a detailed overview of the helicopter’s capabilities, stressing the importance of ongoing training, public education, and the constant pursuit of excellence. The dedication and professionalism exhibited by all members of the department were evident, reflecting their commitment to upholding the highest standards of safety and security.
As we bid farewell to the 4° Reparto Volo, it became abundantly clear that the AgustaWestland AW139, coupled with the expertise of the Polizia’s dedicated personnel, forms an indispensable asset in ensuring he well-being of the people of Sicily. From territory control and public safety to search and rescue operations, the IV Reparto Volo’s aerial capabilities exemplify their unwavering commitment to protect and serve the communities they call home.