KFOR Chronicle
   
Published:
19-Aug-2002
The Italian Air Force in Kosovo
Autonomous and Operational
By WO 2 Giuseppe Mattiello, Italian Air Force

1st Autonomous Operational Detachment (A.O.D.)The Italian Air Force (I.T.A.F) has taken part in the KFOR peacekeeping mission, "Joint Guardian", since June 1999. The Italian Minister of Defence tasked the Air Force to build and manage an airport that would assist in transporting personnel and equipment, thus eliminating the need for long road convoys.

Djakovica/Gjakova, located in MNB(W), was selected as the site for the airport because it is strategically located 35km from Pec/Peja and 70km from Pristina. The Djakovica/Gjakova airport is not directly controlled by KFOR, but is considered a national asset of the Italian Air Force. However, the airport obtains the backing and support of the NATO Regional Headquarters South (AFSOUTH), and the Theatre Command (COMKFOR).

The first team arrived in theatre on 5 August 1999 and installed the first camp base, while waiting for the first Italian contingent. The airport became operational within 55 days, with the first aircraft, the G222 of the Italian Air Force, landing on the semi-prepared runway of 1500 meters by 30 meters. On December the 23 the airport was officially inaugurated and was constituted the 1st Autonomous Operational Detachment (1st A.O.D.).

After only 115 days the assigned task was completed with one taxi - way,
three large helo-pads, and the installation of a mobile Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT). This created an airport capable of supporting operations of aircraft class C-130 Hercules.

Through the hard efforts of the air force personnel the following achievements were made; first aircraft landing/after 55 days of construction, 50 men accomplished runway and connected services; 80 men accomplished logistic area; 47 mechanical machines were used; after only 115 days the airbase was fully operational and finally, it took 67.000 total working hours to accomplish this feat.

Djakovica/Gjakova airport was very important during the crisis of Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), because of road closures. The use of air assets became the main system of transportation.
The Djakovica/Gjakova airport has become the alternate base to Pristina airfield because it is better disposed to Albania and Montenegro and the better meteorological situation, is more suitable for flight operations, especially during the winter.


Two helicopter pilots going through the checklist before taking off for a new mission

1st A.O.D. (Autonomous Operational Detachment) hosted the French Hunter Detachment, that performed RECCE mission (reconnaissance) with UAV system operations that were tasked by KFOR . This operation gave proof that the airport is capable of supporting different types of aircraft missions. Finally, this base in a short time, will be able to use the Instrumental Landing System (ILS), which will give all users full operational support 24 hours a day. Potential capabilities of this airport has sparked interest of several allied countries. NATO-KFOR has signed a technical agreement to use the air base for all nations that operate in Kosovo. Also civil authorities have expressed great interest in the use of the airport for commercial purposes. The objective of Djakovica/Gjakova, airport is to improve the quality of life of the local population. The Italian Air Force is continuing to further enhance the airport with the addition of a new immobile Control Tower. Along with the responsibility of managing airport operations and construction, the I.T.A.F has deployed two Helicopters , the NH 500, of 72nd Wing, whose task is for personnel transportation and border patrolling.

2nd Autonomous Operational Detachment (A.O.D.)
Italy became "lead Nation" in Pristina Airport on 1st July 2000 and established the 2nd A.O.D. who are responsible for all air traffic movement but also for the " cross servicing", which entails maintenance, parking, refueling, unloading cargo and bags. All military flights landing in Pristina APOD (Airport of Debarkation) are supported by a qualified movement and cargo section (Re.Mo.Ca.).
The Italian Air Force Component in Kosovo consists of only 400 people who control military and civilian air traffic. They have already started to train the local population on how to run the airport in a professional way. When the Kosovo Forces leave from this region, the local population will take these airports as great gifts from Italy.