NAQOURA, JUNE 24 – One of the unsung heroes of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon turns 40 next year. Established just one year after UNIFIL itself was created, ITALAIR or Italian Air is one of the oldest units in the UN peacekeeping mission in Southern Lebanon. With four decades of continuous service, ITALAIR has been a witness to much of UNIFIL and South Lebanon’s history, not to mention its own accomplishments, hardships, losses, and lessons learned.
ITALAIR was established in July 1979 as an aerial support unit for UNIFIL’s operations, and it got started with just one helicopter. Over the years, ITALAIR pilots have flown more than 36,000 hours, carrying more than 145,000 passengers on its transport missions.
After the July 2006 war in South Lebanon and the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701, ITALAIR became a task force. The old helicopters were replaced with new and more advanced models, resulting in the current fleet of Agusta Bell 212 helicopters.
The ITALAIR task force operates directly under the UNIFIL Force Commander and is comprised of crew from three branches of the Italian Armed Forces; the army, air force, and the navy. ITALAIR has two flight assets, consisting of two helicopter configurations ready to operate on a daily basis. One is in a multi-task configuration, prepared to transport passengers, conducts air patrols over the area of operations, conducts observations and reconnaissance along the Blue Line in the area of operations, and, if requested, assist fire-fighting operations in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The second helicopter configuration is designed for Casevac and Medevac or casualty and medical evacuations. ITALAIR has conducted more than 1,700 emergency flights, transporting the sick and injured and stands ready to provide its service day or night, seven days a week. One of the Casevac/Medivac helicopters has the capability to take off within 30 minutes and comes manned with a French aero-medical team, in another example of joint efforts in UNIFIL.
The forty years of service have not all passed smoothly for ITALAIR. Tragedy has struck more than once. In 1980, four helicopters were destroyed in an attack. In 1986, one helicopter was shot down near Saida, where its crew was kidnapped, but later released. And in August 1997, an accident on the ground resulted in the death of the helicopter’s crew and passengers, where four Italians and one Irishman lost their lives. (@OnuItalia)