AOPA fights UNC's 'sneak attack' to close Horace Williams Airport

May 5, 2005

AOPA fights UNC's 'sneak attack' to close Horace Williams Airport

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AOPA is all too familiar with the lengths individuals and groups will go to in order to close an airport and develop the land. Now the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is making another attempt to do just that.

The university has managed to get a last-minute anti-airport provision added to Senate Budget Bill 622 that would allow UNC to close its Horace Williams Airport (IGX) to develop a new campus. The Senate language would allow the school to close the airport once its Area Health Education Centers' (AHEC) Medical Air Operations move to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU).

"After North Carolina legislators listened to local pilots and voted to keep Horace Williams open last year, the university has tried to sneak in language that would allow it to close the airport," said Roger Cohen, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "AOPA's top priority is to keep airports open, and the association will fight this all the way."

AOPA has been lobbying to protect the airport for more than three years. When UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser first proposed closing the airport in 2002, AOPA President Phil Boyer tried to schedule a meeting with him but was rebuffed. AOPA then turned to allies in the North Carolina General Assembly, notably House Speaker James Black and then co-speaker Richard Morgan, who were able to get legislation passed that guaranteed the airport would stay open until January 1, 2005.

Subsequently, AOPA lobbied the General Assembly to enact a bill last year that requires the university to operate the airport for the AHEC and public until a replacement facility accessible to the Chapel Hill campus becomes available. AOPA contends that RDU is not a suitable replacement because it cannot provide transportation access to health care services equivalent to that offered by Horace Williams.

AOPA is lobbying the North Carolina General Assembly and has called upon its nearly 10,000 North Carolina members to contact their individual legislators.

In a letter to Speaker of the North Carolina House Jim Black - a champion in the association's campaign last year to protect the airport - AOPA reinforced the importance of Horace Williams in Orange County. A replacement site has not been identified, and no one has stepped forward to commit the needed funds in the budget to build a new airport.

North Carolina's AHEC program is based at the airport, the land for which was a gift from university professor Horace Williams in the 1930s. AHEC uses general aviation aircraft to transport health science faculty, medical residents, health science students, and university officials across the state. Moving AHEC operations to RDU could potentially delay emergency flights because of the growing number of scheduled airline flights and the worsening ground traffic congestion.

Photo of Horace Williams Airport by Jack Imperiale.

May 5, 2005