It’s dawn and the apron at Malpensa Cargo City is already operational and ready to welcome Leonardo's AW189 and AW139 helicopters, which have just taken off from Cascina Costa. Upon arrival the helicopters will be loaded with masks, ventilators, gowns, swabs, reagents, valves and other medical products, ready for distribution across Italy, in the regions where the Covid-19 emergency has hit harder. Giuseppe Afruni, Leonardo’s Helicopters Division Head of Flight Operations, explains more.
Helicopters have played a key role in responding to the Coronavirus emergency. What has been your most important contribution in your role as Chief Test Pilot?
Helicopters are extremely flexible. They make it possible to rapidly transport goods and people to places usually unreachable by other means of transport. Thanks to the 24/7 availability of two Leonardo helicopters – one AW139 and one AW189 – we have been able to considerably increase the operational capacity of Italy’s Civil Protection Department during this crisis.
As Chief Test Pilot I have been able to support my country, making available a group of high-level aviation professionals as well as state-of-the-art helicopters. This was also made possible by our Company’s availability in responding to the emergency.
What additional equipment have you had to wear and/or use to perform these missions? Were any changes introduced to your usual procedures?
The standard flight equipment did not change; we are continuing to use our usual safety gear. During this period of necessary social distancing, however, we had to implement additional precautions, such as the use of suitable masks, double gloves, goggles and so on, in order to comply with the safety instructions issued by the relevant authorities.
With regard to the helicopters, regular maintenance operations have been supplemented by additional deep-cleaning procedures carried out daily and at the end of each flight.
You have years of experience facing challenges very different to the current situation and have had just a few weeks to adopt a completely new approach. What have you learned and how has it helped your development?
I have been a test pilot for over 25 years, but I also have an operational background, having served as a pilot in the Armed Forces, flying helicopters and planes for more than 20 years. It is deeply gratifying, both personally and professionally, to be back in the service of my country at this time of need. Furthermore, performing operational missions with aircraft regularly used for testing allows me to check our products’ capability in the field and to identify further areas of application and opportunities for improvement.
Giuseppe Afruni joined AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) as test pilot in 2003, working on development programmes for the NH-90, AW119, AW109SP and AW169 helicopters and the AW609 tiltrotor. Since 2015 he has held the position of Chief Test Pilot and Head of Flight Operations in Leonardo's Helicopters Division. He has a record of more than 9,000 flight hours on different types of aircraft and helicopters.