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September 6, 2005
As AOPA reported last month, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill snuck a last-minute anti-airport provision into Senate Budget Bill 622 that would allow the university to close its Horace Williams Airport (IGX), which serves chiefly as the base for the university's Area Health Education Center's (AHEC) Medical Air Operations.
The Senate language would allow the university to close the airport once AHEC has access to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. S.B. 622 has passed the Senate and is now in the House Appropriations Committee where budget deliberations are ongoing and expected to conclude early next week.
AOPA has been lobbying to protect the airport for more than three years. Last year AOPA, AHEC users, and a wide range of airport supporters were successful in persuading legislators to keep it open until a suitable replacement facility was operational. However, the new anti-airport language in the Senate budget bill, along with the recent unanimous vote of UNC's Board of Trustees to close the university-owned field, have placed Horace Williams in great peril.
"The future of Horace Williams would be tied directly to AHEC's presence on the field. Simply put: no AHEC, no airport - and no requirement to replace it," said Roger Cohen, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "And as we have seen in other areas of the country - most recently in central Texas - replacement facilities can take several years to be identified, let alone built."
"We won't give up the fight to save this airport or replace it," Cohen continued, "but facing the opposition of the university trustees makes this an even more difficult challenge. It is important that state legislators hear from pilots regarding the importance of keeping Horace Williams open. We encourage all of our North Carolina AOPA members to take action now and contact the co-chairs of the House Appropriations Committee, House Speaker James Black, and their own state representatives."
AOPA maintains that Raleigh-Durham is not a suitable replacement because it cannot provide transportation access to health care services or the general aviation equivalent to Horace Williams. Moreover, AHEC uses GA aircraft to transport health care professionals across the state, including many rural areas, and moving AHEC operations to Raleigh-Durham would significantly delay UNC medical flights because of the growing number of scheduled airline flights and the worsening ground traffic congestion.
"Closing Horace Williams would create a huge void for business and recreational pilots and leave the Research Triangle the most urbanized region in North Carolina without a general aviation airport," said AOPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Representative Chris Hudson.
Speaker Jim Black (R) Hometown: Matthews Represents: Mecklenburg Legislative office phone: 919/733-3451 E-mail [email protected]
Rep. Debbie Clary (R) Hometown: Cherryville Represents: Cleveland and Gaston Legislative office phone: 919/715-2002 E-mail [email protected]
Rep. Jim Crawford (D) Hometown: Oxford Represents: Granville and Vance Legislative office phone: 919/733-5824 E-mail [email protected]
Rep. Beverly Earle (D) Hometown: Charlotte Represents: Mecklenburg Legislative office phone: 919/715-2530 E-mail [email protected]
Rep. Edd Nye (D) Hometown: Elizabethtown Represents: Bladen and Cumberland Legislative office phone: 919/733-5477 E-mail [email protected]
Rep. Bill Owens (D) Hometown: Elizabeth City Represents: Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, and Tyrell Legislative office phone: 919/733-0010 E-mail [email protected]
Rep. Wilma Sherrill (D) Hometown: Asheville Represents: Buncombe Legislative office phone: 919/715-3026 E-mail [email protected]
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