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The Italian Air Force mobilized to supply hospitals in the face of the coronavirus

(B2) Mobilized very early, theAeronautica militare (Italian Air Force) hasn't been idle in recent weeks. It is present on many fronts in the management of the coronavirus crisis in Italy: repatriation, transport of patients and medical equipment, logistical support

NB: Elements updated on March 31, 2020 at noon

Phase 1: repatriations to Europe

The Italian Air Force was first mobilized to repatriate Italian and European citizens. Four operations are implemented. They are all carried out with Boeing KC-767A planes, from the 14th Stormo (squadron) of Pratica di Mare (Pomezia, near Rome). They are equipped with isolator systems (ATI, STI and N36 type) allowing biological containment.

On February 3, the planes brought back 56 Italian citizens from Wuhan, China, with a medical team made up of four soldiers and two civilians on board. On February 9, from the Brize Norton military airport in England, they picked up European citizens repatriated by the British from Wuhan. On February 15, the plane bringing back a young Italian with Covid-19 from Wuhan landed on the airport tarmac.

Finally, on February 21 and 22, two planes bring back 19 European citizens from the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in Yokohama, Japan. In this last operation, she was assisted by the Italian Navy, which seconded two doctors and a nurse to her, in addition to the Air Force biological containment health team.

Once landed at Practica di Mare, passengers pass through a reception and health control area set up by specialists from the Airport Command, the 3rd Villafranca Stormo and the Air Force Health Service.

Sanitary control area in Pratica di Mare, February 3, 2020 (credit: Italian Ministry of Defence)

Phase 2: transportation of medical supplies and equipment

Another task that has become very important is the transport of medical equipment for civil protection. This is distributed to the hospitals most in difficulty, particularly in the north of the country. On March 19, two planes, a Boeing KC-767 from the 14th Stormo and a C-130J from the 46th Air Brigade in Pisa, are flying back and forth to Cologne, Germany. On board, seven tons of respiratory assistance equipment and other support devices and medical equipment. On March 22, the C-130J flies to Düsseldorf, Germany, to pick up a load of respirators and transport it to Bergamo Orio al Serio airport. On the same day, a KC-767A from the 14th Stormo, lands at Malpensa airport (Milan) from Istanbul, carrying about 10.000 pounds of medical equipment arrived from China. On March 30, a C-130J flies from Fiumicino Airport (Rome) to Malpensa with about five tons of medical equipment on board for hospital facilities.

An Air Force C-130J performs a transport of medical equipment, including masks, on March 30, 2020 (credit: Italian Ministry of Defence)

Phase 3: logistical support for field hospitals

While field hospitals are multiplying, the Air Force is called to the rescue to provide, in particular, logistical support. On March 17, an American DC8 landed at Villafrance-Verona airport. On board, a 60-bed field hospital and eight intensive care units, made available by the Samaritan's Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian organization from the United States. Also present, health and logistics personnel, as well as medical equipment.

A second flight, on March 21, makes it possible to integrate the team of specialists who thus support the operation of the structure. The Air Force, in particular a specialized team from the 3th Stormo provides logistical support and contributes to setting up the hospital in Cremona. It also provides the NGO with hydraulic and electrical equipment, such as taps, field lighting, showers and boilers. The hospital is operational from March 20, for a period of three months.

Similar logistical support is provided to the 14 Russian planes that have landed in Pratica di Mare in recent days. They are bringing in doctors and infectious disease experts, as well as mobile units to disinfect vehicles and public spaces. On March 27, the 16th Stormo Protezione delle Forze di Martina Franca sets up in a few hours two campaign tents in front of the 'Valle d'Itria' hospital (Martina Franca).

The Samaritan's Purse plane, which brings a field hospital, on the tarmac at Villafrance-Verona airport, March 17, 2020 (credit: Italian Air Force)

Phase 4: transporting patients from one hospital to another

In order to ease the pressure on hospitals in northern Italy, the air force is also taking part in the transport of patients. HH-101 helicopters, capable of transporting patients in biological confinement thanks to special ATI isolated stretchers (Aircraft Transit Insulator), as well as providing assistance to patients via breathing apparatus during the flight, are made available. crews of the 15th Stormo and teams of doctors and nurses are ready to take off 24 hours a day from the temporary hub installed at the Cervia air base. The C-24J aircraft of the 130th Air Brigade performs eight transports from Bergamo-Orio al Serio airport: five to other Italian hospitals, one to Dresden (Germany) and two to Leipzig (Germany). HH-46 helicopters from the 15th Stormo, also supported by crews from the 9th Stormo of Grazzanise, make five more transports (1).

Preparation for the transport in biological confinement of a Covid-19 patient, March 7, 2020 (credit: Italian Air Force)

(CG, st.)

  1. Data correct as of March 27, 2020.

Coordination of operations

The Air Operations Center, at the Poggio Renatico Air Operations Command (Ferrara), is responsible for receiving and evaluating requests from hospitals, prefectures or Civil Defense. It translates them into mission orders for designated flight services. For its part, the operational command of the Joint Summit (COI), under the responsibility of the Chief of Staff, has set up an emergency room responsible for coordinating all transfers of compatriots from abroad, as well as manage and share relevant information with other departments.

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