Copyright: Italian Air Force Press Office

Interview with Italian Air Force Colonel Pilot Gianluca Chiriatti, commander of the 41° Stormo and Sigonella airport

During the performance of the Frecce Tricolori held on the skies of Sigonella AB last August we met Colonel Gianluca Chiriatti Commander of the 41° Stormo and Sigonella AB with whom we exchanged “two chats” between a joke and a caffè… although we knew Colonel Chiriatti, we had the opportunity to appreciate the military for the undisputed qualities demonstrated but above all the man for that way of understanding and combining profession and humanity by wearing the flight suit of the Italian Air Force.

Aviation Report:  Colonel Chiriatti has been about two years since his inauguration as Commander of the 41° Stormo and Sigonella Air Base… about to leave the command, what can you tell us about this time spent in Sigonella?!

Colonel Chiriatti: It is an honor to be the Commander of the 41st Wing and of Sigonella and I consider myself privileged to have had the opportunity to learn about the wonderful scents and colors of Sicily, as well as the humanity of the Sicilian population and the professionalism of the staff working on the base. A daily challenge, therefore, certainly not because as a pilot I come from a different operational precedent, but simply because as a commander the perspective is necessarily peculiar: enthusiasm, curiosity, the desire to learn to know and improve relationships, the dynamics of management among all the actors involved in order to ensure the achievement of the goals of each… or simply, our institutional task: the security of Italia end citizens.

AvRep: Colonel what were the “challenges” he faced and solved as Commander?!

Colonel Chiriatti: It should be remembered that Sigonella AB is not only the 41st Wing that mainly carries out maritime surveillance activities with P72A aircraft, but also hosts many other departments such as the 61° Gruppo APR , the 11° RMV among the most important of the Armed Forces, il 304° Servizio Tecnico Distaccato, other Units of the Aeronautica Militare, detachments of the Navy, Aeroported Units of the Carabinieri, the NATO AGS Force and air detachments of Spain , Poland and Luxembourg as part of EUNAVFORMED as well as the US Navy Aeronaval Station (NASSIG) with 36 departments present making it the most important in the Mediterranean. So you realize the complex network of functions, commands and partnerships of Sigonella AB and that all this needs an impressive number of organizations and roles to effectively carry out the multiple missions entrusted to the installation.
As you can well guess, the most challenging job was to identify, balance and manage the different requests of the departments hosted under my expertise.
“My main challenge has been to entrust to the right person or the relevant department what needs to be done… sometimes to carry out projects you need to interface with multiple people, and identify the different needs mediate with each other to make them viable and operational in a short time.”
Another challenge was the streamlining of emergency response procedures between the Italian and U.S. departments and the strengthening of relations and operational activities between Air Force personnel and foreign personnel present in Sigonella.

Another challenge was to increase the full operational capacity of the P-72A which as a pilot and Commander of the 41° Stormo has absorbed a part of my time and reminded me that, beyond the bureaucratic and operational part linked to the command, I am a pilot and for a pilot to be “saddled” to a new steed is always a unique and unrepeatable experience… I have to admit that the P-72A paid me the “attention” I gave him.

AvRep: Colonel about P-72A…in these two years under his command as the development of full operational capacity of the new trim supplied to the 88° Gruppo now November 2016… are satisfied with the work that has been done so far why?

Colonel Chiriatti: Satisfied? No doubt Yes… As Commander, the department I feel quite satisfied with the work done so far by all the staff, sailing and not, for the professionalism shown in achieving the goals set. In these two years
the P72A has grown considerably, gaining national and international appreciation… I am referring not only to the aircraft, but to all those elements that come into play, such as crews, operational/training publications, the maintenance component: elements that have worked in synergy, learning and teaching to project themselves towards the full use of operational capabilities. As always, the satisfaction of the objectives achieved cannot and should not be considered a goal but a stimulus to improve itself; For this reason, we expect to be able to further increase the operational capabilities, both of the department and the trim, with the arrival of the last aircraft that will complete the fleet acquired by the Armed Forces.

AvRep: Colonel Chiriatti what kind of contribution has Sigonella AB provided and continues to provide for this emergency COVID 19 in both military and civilian dress?

Colonel Chiriatti: Sigonella Airport has continued to provide the consolidated operational capabilities expressed daily by the various departments domestic and foreign present on its headquarters, which in itself do not contemplate direct involvement in the health emergency. However, precisely because of the eclectic skills expressed and the strong link with the territory, the base has made a substantial contribution to the various local needs.
For example, our air traffic controllers have managed the inbound and departing flow of the many medical flights arriving on Catania Fontanarossa, both the Italian Air Force and other Armed Forces and State Corps.
Essentially, for the Air Force as well as for all the other Armed Forces, there has not been a “lockdown” or various phases, we have never interrupted our institutional activity, our commitment to ensure the essential functions of defense and security assigned to us by law. To these we have added and flanked, always with generosity and dedication, a significant support to the institutions and the Civil Protection in support of the population, always applying from the beginning all the measures and precautions of protection and safety that the dispositive rules and common sense have indicated to us.

AvRep: Colonel for over 3 months the whole nation has been in full health emergency due to the declared pandemic… who like you wears the “stars” that real responsibility feels on your shoulders?

Colonel Chiriatti: Be an example, conveying the message of trust: we must continue to work, to protect the future of our children and our country. Personally, it means feeling some extra responsibility. In addition to being a father and as a husband, I have a duty to ensure that the thousands of men and women in my care and all the realities operating from Sigonella Airport can act in serenity and total security, so as to ensure the institutional tasks provided by the “mission” of the Department.

AvRep: Colonel we are sure that the determining and very challenging factor has been, and continues to be, the security of military and civilian personnel operating in a large base such as Sigonella which is home to so many national operational departments, the US and NATO; can you describe to us what kind of prevention you have and continue to adopt for both staff and facilities and any “welcome”?

Colonel Chiriatti: Since the first emergency warnings, we have taken a number of incremental and modular measures, in line with national and regional legislation to deal with the possible spread of the virus. In summary, we have introduced risk containment actions, adjusting our operating procedures to ensure the required operational activity.

The detection of body temperature before entering the Airport, the closure of some non-essential common areas, the distribution of appropriate IPR are just some of the measures taken. In addition, we promptly set up a local Task Force to constantly assess the situation, identify solutions that are in our context and continuously monitor that the measures taken are fully implemented.
Particularly in the lock-down period, Base inputs were reduced to the essentials, always for strictly service and operational reasons

AvRep: What type of mission is the 41° Stormo “tasked” for?

Colonel Chiriatti: The Department is mainly concerned with patrolling, reconnaissance, search and rescue in the maritime field. The P72A aircraft has a suite of lastgeneration sensors that allow us to carry out our activities with extreme precision and efficiency; the technical characteristics and professionalism of the crews allow the performance of other types of missions, such as ISR also in support of other departments.

AvRep: What does “phase 2” provide for the 41° Stormo and Sigonella AB?

Colonel Chiriatti: We, like the entire Armed Forces, have had to continue to operate on the road, and in fact we have never experienced a real closure of “phase 1”. The operational activity has maintained high levels even in the midst of a health emergency, so at present, we have not considered “eased” the precautionary measures, but rather to adapt them carefully and promptly to the changing conditions. We are and will always be aligned with national and regional directives, in the light of the “mission” to be guaranteed: the wish is to gradually return to that working and family life that we know as normal.

AvRep: Professionally Commander what will you have left of this emergency experience that has affected you and your Department?

Colonel Chiriatti: The awareness to do a fundamental work for the country, also and especially in times of great difficulty. And the satisfaction of being the Commander of women and men who, precisely in the collective difficulty, have given their best to offer their daily contribution, with passion and discretion.

AvRep: In addition to being military, you are also a husband and a father; how do you reconcile your professional life in full COVID19 emergency with family life? Have you ever been afraid of your family?

Colonel Chiriatti: Managing a complex reality like Sigonella requires a complete dedication: the commander is the cornerstone to which everyone looks and must always be present, even if not always physically.
In times of emergency, this perspective is even more acute, as the situations that emerge must be managed dynamically: it is necessary to listen to the collaborators, decide and act with pragmatism.
I am fortunate to have a wonderful family, who have patiently shared my life choice. Honestly I was not afraid, but often a lot of desire to be a little more with them.

AvRep: Colonel how you managed to combine the combination of safety/operational of the crews involved in these missions, “forced” to operate in limited spaces such as those of the carlinga of a military aircraft; can you describe to us what kind of prevention you have and continue to adopt “on board”?

Colonel Chiriatti: The operational P72A aircraft consists of a crew of 9 people (Pilots, Mission System Operators and OnBoard Technicians) and inevitably it is not possible to maintain the social distances provided to limit the spread of the virus. However, operational activity cannot stop and the Armed Forces has provided us with masks, sanitation gels and disposable gloves in order to operate in total health safety.

AvRep: The choice to be a pilot in AM is already an important life choice in itself, but at this historical moment it takes on a very important importance and a really demanding value; what does it mean for you to fly in emergency COVID-19?

Colonel Chiriatti: When the majority of the Italian population stayed at home to limit the spread of the virus we, as every day, went to work with the same spirit and tenacity as always, aware of carrying out an activity useful to the country… This made me even more aware of the importance of the work we do.

AvRep: Colonel what it feels like at the end of the shift, after a long day flying in full emergency?

Colonel Chiriatti: Normally an operational flight of more than 6 hours has a fair load of stress, but the experience gained and the continuous training allow us to manage it and make it a defacto resource:
it increases the level of attention in dealing with and managing risk. In the midst of a health emergency there was an extra factor of stress, the thought of the possible contraction and propagation of the virus, but thanks to the security measures taken, both in flight and on the ground, combined with the professionalism of the staff has always led to the correct success of the assigned mission.

AvRep: Can Colonel describe to us a moment, or a mission, that is extremely difficult during this long and challenging emergency?

Colonel Chiriatti: A particularly intense memory is related to the afternoon of April 29; During a maritime patrol mission in the southern sector of Sicily we were ordered to direct quickly off Crotone to take part in SAR operations aimed at locating the crew members of a rotating wing trim of the Canadian Navy, unfortunately recently crashed.
Our P72A is optimized to deal with such missions thanks to the specific equipment it embarks on, such as selfinflatable life rafts, smoke bombs and more, but the procedure for undocking the equipment involves opening the tailgate resulting in depressurization of the trim. In such conditions, the concomitant emotional charge due to the actual operational condition with life-threatening colleagues, the long duration of the research mission, the operational condition of the unconditioned aircraft and the operation with the IPR worn, made the mission particularly challenging; In addition to this, the whole operation was carried out by always implementing the safety standards of both the mission and health, the picture is very particular.
In these circumstances, preparation and closeness between all crew members is the determined factor that allows you to complete the assigned mission.

AvRep: Colonel, have you ever been afraid to get infected during missions in a health emergency?

Colonel Chiriatti: No fear no, respect yes. A military pilot is trained to operate by identifying, assessing and managing the risk: undoubtedly, the risk is intrinsically linked to flight activity. normally with fear. And we are always aware that, although the mission is taken care of in the smallest detail, there is always an incognito risk coefficient.
Preparation, training and experience certainly have the task of lowering the percentage of the risk coefficient, although sometimes the face has posed additional obstacles, not planned. During the health emergency we used the same perspective, integrating in the management of the risk this obstacle certainly not planned and with unknown contours: we did our best, with the knowledge that we could contract the virus despite the precautionary measures, but always sure of the correct success of the mission – indispensable for the security of the country.

Col. Gianluca Chiriatti

Colonel Chiriatti has over 3000 flight hours, of which 1500 on AM-X/XT. He is qualified on Twin Astir, SF260, MB339A, T-37, T-38, AM-X / XT, P-72A aircraft and has the following qualifications: Instructor Pilot and Flight Evaluator on the T-38A aircraft, Operational Tactics Instructor, Flight Leader, Chase on AM-X / XT aircraft, Package Commander.

The author and Aviation Report express their thanks for the availability and effective collaboration at
SMA Public Information Office ROME. With. AArnn Pil. Gianluca Ghiriatti Commander Sigponella AB and 41° Stormo for the availability and exquisite courtesy in answering our questions. To Lt. Carmelo Savoca of the Institutional Communications Office of the 41° Stormo our irreplaceable guide during the visit. A special thank you to all the staff of the 41° Stormo for the collaboration and kindness shown during our stay.

Interview: Gianni Scuderi
Images: Gianni Scuderi, Italian Air Force Press Office