Horace Williams Airport (IGX) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, will remain open until at least January 1, 2005. The state legislature recently included a provision in the budget bill that prohibits the airport's owner, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from closing the airport until then. AOPA has been pushing to keep the airport open for a definite period of time, following a surprise announcement in April that UNC was going to close IGX to redevelop the land.
"The legislature's action was the result of the collective efforts of North Carolina AOPA members and AOPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Representative Chris Hudson," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "Along with AOPA headquarters staff and other North Carolina pilots, they worked constructively with the legislature to preserve the airport."
Lawmakers also directed that the university may not move the airport's major tenant, UNC's MedAir unit, without first consulting with the legislature and demonstrating the benefits of relocating the medical air service's aircraft.
"We're pleased the legislature recognized the benefits that Horace Williams Airport provides," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "It is a vital aviation transportation link for community members, tourists, alumni, and university guests, and it is ideally situated to support the AHEC program, which provides medical services to rural areas."
UNC's MedAir unit has been based at IGX since its founding 34 years ago. Using a fleet of Barons and a King Air, the program flies university doctors and healthcare professionals around the state as part of the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program.
The airport serves Orange, Chatham, and Durham counties and is a reliever airport for Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
UNC Chancellor James Moeser stunned the aviation and medical communities when he announced the imminent closure of the airport. The university claimed the airport had "become a financial drain and requires major safety-related improvements not consistent with the university's commitment to positive town relations."
AOPA had appealed the decision, arguing that the university should, at the very least, maintain the airport for five years to allow users, including AHEC, to find reasonable alternatives. AOPA also offered to work with the university to find ways to put the airport on a sounder financial basis.
AOPA President Phil Boyer also met with Speaker of the House James B. Black and other key legislators to push for maintaining the airport. North Carolina pilots contacted their state representatives to express support for the airport.