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Aerial firefighting and HEMS, an interview with Edi Furlan

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Following a joint aerial firefighting operation between the Slovenian Army and the Italian Civil Protection, we spoke with Edi Furlan, sales manager at EliFriulia.

How do you evaluate the collaboration between the Slovenian and the Italian firefighters during the intervention on the Cerje fire? Do you think that this kind of international cooperations could be improved, if yes, how?

It has been a good team work. Our helicopter has been alerted for that fire close to our border. The Slovenian Army helicopters were already working on the Slovenian side when the fire passed the border and we arrived. Our second helicopter has been alerted, but fortunately didn’t take off since the fire was extinguished in time.

The EU should work to remove the still-existing barriers on our borders, in particular when safety, security or health of the population are compromised. We already had excellent cooperation in the past, for example in joint training. This should be the starting point for the future.

Elifriulia is the Italian helicopter operator with the longest tradition, since it was founded in 1971. When did you fly the first firefighting mission and with which type of aircraft?

Firefighting has been one of the first developments of EliFriulia during the 1980s. Everything started as an experimental project with an Aerospatiale SA315B “Lama” , but today the service consists of proven procedures, highly trained and experienced personnel.

Aerial firefighting in Slovenia is a prerogative of the Army and the Police. In Italy the system is much different. Can you explain it briefly to our readers?

In most of the cases the aerial firefighting is contracted by the Public Authorities to private Companies holding the Aerial Work Certificate. Each Region, in the perimeter of its autonomy, organizes the service and the relevant contract in different ways, that’s why in Friuli Venezia-Giulia the Contractor is the regional Civil Protection, in Sardinia it is the Region itself, in other Regions it is a specific Agency for the surveillance of forest fires. Depending on the area to manage and its characteristics, one or more helicopters could be employed in the contract, on seasonal or yearly basis.

In Friuli Venezia-Giulia the service is not limited to firefighting but includes SAR (Search and Rescue) and all those activities of public interest which require the use of the helicopter, such as maintenance of mountain objects, antennas, or avalanche monitoring.

How is the aerial firefighting service organised in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region and what is Elifriulia’s role in it? How much does it cost to the taxpayers?

It consists of one helicopter Airbus AS350B3 always available, 365 days a year, ready to take-off within 15 minutes from the request of activation during daytime. Additional helicopters could be activated, in case of extended fires or natural disaster (like the hurricane Vaia) and other activities. The operative base is in Tolmezzo, north of Udine close to the Alps.

The contract is awarded on an open tender procedure basis, this guarantees the maximum benefit for the community in terms of cost/benefit ratio.

Can you share with us some statistics about the firefighting missions flown during this year in Friuli Venezia Giulia? How many personnel is involved in a typical mission flown by one helicopter?

In our Region this year we flown roughly 320 hours, as per end of august reports, for Civil Protection purposes including firefighting.

The helicopter has a crew of pilot and technician and carries a bambi bucket with a capacity of 1000l. During firefighting missions the pilot is the only person on-board. When needed, additional operators could assist the operations on the ground, for example providing fuel or managing water tanks for firefighting, etc.

Do you operate also in other Italian regions or abroad?

At the moment we are managing firefighting contracts also in Veneto, Tuscany and Sardinia, but our commercial presence with our services in the last 3 years includes Spain, Germany, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and last but not least Slovenia.

Your fleet is pretty impressive, how many aircraft do you operate? What are the other sectors of operations and what is your core business?

We currently have a fleet of 19 aircraft that includes 3 Airbus Helicopters H145, 1 Airbus Helicopters EC135T2+ and 7 Airbus Helicopters AS350B3, 1 R66 Turbine and 4 R22 BETA II manufactured by Robinson Helicopters, 1 Cessna C172 G1000 and. 2 Cessna C152.

The Company holds all the necessary European (EASA) certifications to perform Commercial Air Transport (such as HEMS – Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, passenger transport, offshore operations), Specialized High-Risk Operations (such as aerial work, sling load operations …), all levels of maintenance on the aircraft included in our fleet and others. In addition, we have an Approved Training Organization which delivers private, commercial and airline pilot license training, both on helicopter and airplane.

The company invested (and is investing) in the twin-engine Airbus H145 to be more present and competitive in the HEMS sector. This is definitively the sector with the most important benefits for the community where technology, training, professionalism and experience can make the difference. We really take care of this in EliFriulia.

HEMS is recurrently a hot topic also in the Slovenian mainstream media. Italy is still behind many other nations with the night service. In some regions this service is not guaranteed, Friuli Venezia Giulia was among the first regions to establish it, in february 2018. Why it took so long and which kind of issues you had to face during the first months of operations?

The introduction of the EASA Reg. 965/2012 represented the key for the improvement of the night operations in HEMS. We currently provide HEMS on H24 basis and during the night we operate in multicrew with the employment of Night Vision Goggles.

It’s not an automatic process switching from H12 to H24. You should consider the investment in new technologies, last generation helicopters, crew training, …

Any new improvement has a run-up phase during which the procedures are adjusted and the potential benefits are constantly verified.

What is your vision on the helicopter industry in the next future? Are you aiming also to the Slovenian market?

The industry, except the oil & gas sector, is growing. New sectors are raising, such as the services to the windfarms, and also old sectors are raising again. This is the case of the cargo: many customers prefer to use the helicopter for lifting materials not only on the mountain huts, but also on construction sites where the lease of a crane is too expensive.

The HEMS is the sector where the most innovations are employed, that is a job where you never get bored. We see a potential for medium-sized operators like we are, able to offer more flexible solutions to the customers, compared to the huge multinational operators.

We are neighbors, we can see the Slovenian hills and mountains from our base. We see a potential in Slovenia and we are looking forward to be more present in the future.

Author: Aljoša JArc

Photo: EliFriulia


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