Keep Horace Williams open. That's the message doctors with the University of North Carolina's Area Health Education Center (AHEC) gave members of the North Carolina legislature's Appropriations subcommittees on education and health and human services during a joint hearing on June 14.
About a dozen people testified at the hearing, which focused on the impact airport closure would have on AHEC medical flight operations currently based at Horace Williams.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which owns the airport, has made it clear that it intends to close the airport to make room for a new research campus and has pressured doctors not to support the airport.
One doctor who spoke in favor of the airport said that he was supporting Horace Williams even though it wasn't a career-enhancing move.
"It's clear that this airport is a vital asset to the community, AHEC, and the university," said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "These doctors aren't in an easy position, yet they are standing up for Horace Williams because it provides them the fastest response time for medical flights."
The university has proposed to relocate the medical flights to Raleigh Durham International, which would help pave the way for Horace William's closure. However, it would take doctors much longer to reach Raleigh Durham for a medical flight.
AOPA Southeastern Regional Representative Bob Minter, who met with members of the subcommittees Wednesday to discuss the importance of the airport, attended the hearing Thursday.
"Based on subcommittee members' responses and questions to those who testified, it was obvious that they were aware of the cost of closing the airport," Minter said. "It was a positive meeting for the airport."
AOPA has been encouraging legislators to take action to protect the future of the airport and submitted formal comments in advance of Thursday's hearing.
Last weekend, pilots from across North Carolina gathered for an AOPA Airport Support Network regional meeting in Chapel Hill to demonstrate the aviation community's continuing interest for the airport and promote increased use of the airport.
Updated: June 14, 2007, 5:13 p.m. EDT