Photo by Jack Imperiale
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill must continue to operate Horace Williams Airport for the public and the school's Area Health Education Center's (AHEC) Medical Air Operations for at least another year thanks to language AOPA supported in the state's House budget bill. The language survived House-Senate deliberations to make it into the final budget that was signed into law Saturday afternoon.
During the next year, the Legislative Research Commission will study the effect that closure of Horace Williams would have on the AHEC program.
"Horace Williams could well be closed by now if AOPA's 10,000 North Carolina members hadn't come to the airport's defense. Hundreds of pilots contacted their state legislators, telling them to keep the airport open," said Roger Cohen, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "The legislature has once again recognized the importance of the airport, and the study will offer AHEC doctors and pilots a chance, maybe a last chance, to preserve the airport. Passage of this bill is just one step in a long, tough journey."
AHEC uses general aviation aircraft to transport health science faculty, medical residents, health science students, and university officials across the state. Moving AHEC operations, most likely to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), could potentially delay routine AHEC flights because of the growing number of scheduled airline flights and the worsening ground traffic congestion.
"RDU, a busy airline airport, is at least a 30- to 45-minute drive from the university. The doctors and pilots will not want to delay their regular flights and endure the daily traffic congestion between Chapel Hill and Raleigh," Cohen said.
Even though AOPA, local pilots, and the medical community have managed to keep the airport open for another year, the university is more committed than ever to closing Horace Williams.
"AOPA members need to continue reinforcing the value of the airport to their legislators," Cohen said. "UNC still intends to close the airport."
AOPA has been lobbying to protect the airport for more than three years. Earlier this year the university managed to get a last-minute anti-airport provision added to the Senate Budget Bill that would allow UNC to close its airport as soon as its AHEC Medical Air Operations moved to RDU. The university wants to build a new campus on the land.
August 15, 2005