Italy tests first dedicated route for low-level IFR helo flying

 - October 1, 2009, 6:49 AM

A recent study of the transportation infrastructure in Italy determined the nation needs a means of effecting a major improvement in the flow of traffic between its densely populated urban areas, and the country is testing opening low-level air routes to rotorcraft as a way of improving mobility.

The Italian civil aviation authority– Enac–is scheduled to open a low-level IFR helicopter route between Turin and Venice by year-end, as a first step toward a network of such dedicated routes in the country.

The project started in April. Enac formed a working group with representatives of Italian air navigation service provider Enav, the Italian air force and AgustaWestland.

In May, the group defined several route options between Turin and Venice and selected the 210-nm route over the Po Valley in June. Experimental flights took place the following month.

The agency has yet to evaluate airspace compatibility and define the final route. Enac is about to assess risks and look for ways to mitigate them before defining operational procedures and limitations. The agency is planning a series of validation flights before final approval.

AgustaWestland provided an AW139 for the VFR flight tests. The AW139’s flight management system used DME and GPS navigation data, and the flight data were recorded for analysis.

Enac anticipates that radar coverage along the route will prove “to be sufficient to ensure continuous monitoring of the flight.”

The altitude of the experimental route was 3,000 feet, but repeatable airspace compatibility will decide the altitude of the final route.

According to Enac, the Turin-Venice route is just the beginning of a program that aims to establish a network of low-level IFR routes for helicopters, connecting different areas of the Italian peninsula.

These routes will be integrated into the airspace system at flight levels where icing conditions are not normally experienced. They will also not require a pressurized cabin or oxygen. In case of adverse weather, helicopters will use these dedicated low-level IFR routes rather than the medium-level routes for fixed-wing aircraft.