Training from zero to hero with Alidaunia

Alidaunia is a helicopter operator based in Foggia in Southern Italy. It operates scheduled passenger services, HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Services), air taxi/charter, offshore, aerial work services, aircraft maintenance and most important for this article, an excellent helicopter flight school. Which is why Alidaunia is a member of the Leading Helicopter Academies (LHA). To take us through the story of Alidaunia and the opportunities for aspiring and experienced helicopter pilots, we have Massimo Bichisecchi, Crew Training Manager for the AOC and CFI for the ATO within Alidaunia.

Massimo: Flying a helicopter was my dream, since I was three years old. It was not something that my parents could afford, so I joined the Italian Military Police as soon as I could. I was a helicopter pilot there for 17 years, with seven years in the Special Forces. I really loved the low-level flying.”

From simulator trainer to Chief Pilot
“I retired from the military to work for Agusta, which became AgustaWestland and is now known as Leonardo. I was one of their first instructors for their simulators and tasked to open the training centre in the United States. Then as a training manager for North and South America and later, Chief Pilot.”

Massimo didn’t stop there. His curiosity and passion for the helicopter business took him to Dubai and Western Africa, to learn and experience flying in the oil and gas industry. His next step? Enter Alidaunia’s CEO, Vincenzo Pucillo, who was looking for someone to help him take the company to the next level.

Massimo: “Alidaunia is a very nice family-run business, but they had grown so much in the last few years that they realised that help was needed in order to grow the organisation. It was an honour to help do this, and I joined as Chief Flight Instructor for the ATO and Crew Training Manager for the AOC part. My main responsibility is training and standardisation, as well as writing procedure manuals for the company.”

Formed in 1976
Alidaunia has a long history of well over 40 years. Formed in 1976 as an operator for aerial work and in 1986 it was granted a licence by the Ministry of Transportation to operate a scheduled service between Puglia and the Tremiti Islands. It’s the only Italian helicopter company operating scheduled flights with helicopters.

Massimo: “The islands are not too far away, but the sea can be very rough. At the beginning of January we had to bring simple things like bread and medical supplies, because for three days it was impossible to travel there by boat. Generally, it’s a very beautiful area with great weather and a lot of tourism.”

The landscape and road system is challenging in the area, which has made HEMS provided by Alidaunia vital to the region.

Massimo: “HEMS might seem like an easy job, but it’s difficult to mesh together the paramedics, the medics and the coordination with the regional system. So, Alidaunia created a subsidiary to manage the medics and paramedics and all the services they needed to support them. This is crucial to provide uninterrupted medical services. We now also have the HEMS contract for the Campania region for two helicopters.”

Excellent service centre for Leonardo
The company is an authorised service centre for AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) since 2002. In fact, it’s one of only three service centres rated as Excellent, from 89 service centres worldwide. The company is also an authorised Robinson Helicopter Service Centre since 2011, for the maintenance of the R22 and R44.

Massimo: “Let’s just say that there has been a lot of work put into the company to get to the level we are today, and a lot of investment.  When you’re here, you don’t feel like you’re in Southern Italy. It’s so well maintained, you feel like you’ve entered Switzerland.”

The facilities at Alidaunia are indeed amazing. Also, the classroom facilities are excellent. So good, that Leonardo uses Alidaunia to train type ratings, and when they sell a helicopter, they send the pilots here too.

Massimo: “We have some important agreements with Leonardo. They had contracts to provide ab initio training for the pilots of Qatari and Maltese organisations. These were subcontracted to us. Some of these pilots have never flown before and you train them all the way up, to some of the largest helicopters.”

Extensive helicopter school
Alidaunia also provides training for many countries who work with their own certification systems. Including Turkey, Kazakhstan and even for pilots from Equatorial Guinea. Basically, it’s an extensive helicopter school covering all aspects of flying. Training from hero to zero. What is it that makes training in Southern Italy more attractive than Switzerland or Norway? And where do the students stay?

Massimo: “We offer family accommodation with olive trees and a nice green environment. Villas with beautiful surroundings, where you can relax after many hours studying in a class. There are great places to eat and enjoy in a lively city, and a rich history, with small ancient villages and natural scenery all within just one hour’s drive.

“From a flying point of view, the weather’s good for 90% of the year. So, interruptions in flight lessons are minimal. Within 30 minutes, there’s flat terrain for landing, but you can also land at 3,000 or 4,000 feet. This makes the training complete for all aspects of flying. You can also experience very strong changing winds and turbulence, because of the Il Libeccio. And flying over shorelines and all the issues you can learn about that. It’s a complete experience.”

Alidaunia can teach almost all types of helicopter training, and that includes flying with night vision goggles and specialisms around hoist and sling operations.

Hoist operation and hoist training
Massimo: “Yes, there’s a real need for hoist operations training. A huge demand, especially for helicopter emergency services. Also, NVG. We’re working on offering these in packages as a basic introduction to those elements. These trainings are with both a real helicopter and a simulator. We’re also looking into buying a new simulator and further developing the training centre at our main base. We’re in negotiations with various providers, including Leonardo. It’s important to get a simulator based on real hardware, virtual reality that we can use to train technical crew members for HEMS operations or hoisting. The contract should be signed by the beginning of March.”

This is the perfect helicopter company for young pilots graduating for their CPL or ATPL licences and to grow their career.

Massimo: “The vast majority of pilots who have taken their wings with Alidaunia are now working at Alidaunia. We are capable of taking pilots with no experience to the very highest levels in our industry. They can build up hours and go further with, for example, aerial surveillance of electricity lines and pipeline work. Many have become co-pilots completing their MCC course.

“Nowadays, when you want to be a co-pilot for HEMS it’s very demanding. You need to have clocked over 250 hours before you’re even considered. It’s becoming more difficult to make these hours because drones are taking over certain tasks for hour building, like inspecting infrastructure, aerial photography and some transportation tasks.

“We’ve got it covered. Alidaunia is providing drone licences because it’s something you just can’t avoid. So, when you become a pilot at Alidaunia, you can also become a drone pilot!”

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