'Helicopter hub' planned for Rome

 - July 8, 2008, 9:23 AM

Manufacturer AgustaWestland and Italian operator Alitalica recently signed an agreement to install a “helicopter hub” at Rome’s Urbe airport. Under the agreement, AgustaWestland will establish a maintenance center for its helicopters. Alitalica will offer “passenger hospitality services, passenger transport and corporate helicopter management services.” The helicopter hub is expected to start operating next year.

The companies chose Urbe for the hub because of its proximity to Rome’s city center–5 sm. More- over, unlike some other downtown airports in Europe, Urbe has no cap on annual aircraft movements. Finally, five helicopters are already based at Urbe.

The goal of the partnership is to spur the growth of the corporate helicopter market (both flights and helicopter sales) in Rome and Southern Italy. The two companies see potential for growth for helicopters at the small airport. According to Alitalica administrator Stefano Fiorni, “The objective is to offer a service at the highest level, thus allowing the potential market to be increased, especially in Mid-South Italy. There, the market is limited by lack of adequate infrastructure,” he asserted.

The hub’s business plan looks modest. Beginning late this year, Alitalica will offer three helicopters for executive charter and expects to fly only 50 to 100 passengers during the first year of operation.

There were some 46,000 aircraft movements–not counting the “Corpo forestale dello Stato,” one of the public fire services–at Rome Urbe last year, including fixed-wing aircraft (many of them light piston singles) and rotorcraft.

Alitalica is scheduled to invest ?3.2 million ($5 million) in building a hangar for the maintenance center, which AgustaWestland will equip and operate. Handling and training, too, will be offered under the hub concept. There are also plans for an additional taxiway.

Alitalica has operated since 1981 as a corporate flight department. It currently operates Agusta- Westland AW109s and AW139s. It also offers some aviation training services.