University of North Carolina to close Horace Williams Airport

February 5, 2002

Chancellor James Moeser
Office of the Chancellor
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
103 South Building
Campus Box 9100
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-9100

Dear Chancellor Moeser:

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, representing more than 380,000 members nationwide and 9,200 members in North Carolina, is disappointed with your recent press conference announcing the closure of the Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill. To our knowledge, this announcement was made with no public input regarding the future of the airport.

The Horace Williams Airport, owned and operated by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since the 1940s, is a beautifully maintained general aviation airport providing unequaled access to the Chapel Hill area. The airport at one time was home to nearly 50 aircraft and provides a vital aviation transportation service to local community members, tourist, alumni, and university guests.

Unlike the concerns raised in your office's press release, AOPA does not view the proximity of the airport to the local community to be a significant safety concern. Rather, it emphasizes the importance of the airport as a focal point of a valuable transportation resource, which attracted community growth. Aviation is, and continues to be, statistically the safest way to travel.

The association recognizes the continuous efforts needed for maintaining a safe airport environment, including the clearing of trees to maintain approach surfaces. However, we believe there are alternatives and options that could be pursued that would not require the complete closure of the airport. While AOPA largely supports all necessary actions be undertaken to maintain approach surfaces clear of obstructions, there are other options that include but are not limited to displacement of runway landing thresholds and utilization of declared distances. We believe all possible alternatives should be explored before deciding to close the airport.

We recognize the university is faced with a difficult decision to maintain access to the area while still keeping pace with an extensive master plan to expand the university.

The University Area Health Education Centers Program (AHEC), providing flights for medical, educational, clinical, and other needs in support of the university's program bases its MedAir unit at Horace Williams Airport, will be directly impacted. There are significant concerns regarding costs associated with relocating their operations, as well as inconvenience to faculty to drive to an airport located further away. The news to close the airport came as a complete surprise to the Medical Air Operations staff, and they are quickly trying to make accommodations so as to not disrupt their services.

The Chapel Hill Flying Club, which for 38 years was based at Horace Williams Airport, moved their operations last summer after the university did not renew their lease. This event could have marked the beginning of a process for the university to close that airport.

Since the university's plan for the closure of Horace Williams Airport will have a significant impact on community members, pilots, alumni, and university programs, we feel it would be in the university's best interests to fully evaluate this decision in a public forum. AOPA and our 380,000 members nationwide ask you to reconsider closing the Horace Williams Airport.

The association would like the opportunity to discuss this matter in person with you and university officials. We hope we can work together to evaluate the university's needs in a way that will provide for the continued operation of the Horace Williams Airport.

Our goal is to find a way to meet your goals and maintain the airport as an important access point to the city and university.

Sincerely,

Phil Boyer

May 1, 2002