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AOPA works to ensure Orange County has an airportAOPA works to ensure Orange County has an airport

During a series of meetings Dec. 10, AOPA and University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill officials discussed ongoing efforts to ensure the future of general aviation in Orange County.

AOPA actively supported legislation last year that authorized the university’s creation of a new airport authority, the first step in building a new airport to be owned and operated by UNC. The university now owns and operates Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill, but that airport is under threat of closure by campus expansion plans, and UNC officials have said they want to build a replacement nearby.

A list of candidates to serve on the new airport authority, including a number of pilots, is now being compiled, and the UNC Board of Governors is expected to consider those nominations in February.

“We are committed to ensuring that the needs of general aviation in Orange County are met now and into the future,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of local airport advocacy. “We have offered our full support to the university’s efforts to build a new airport, and we will continue to be actively involved in this issue.”

AOPA has long argued that the existing airport should remain open and should be included in Carolina North, a new technology research campus under construction on 1,000 acres of land donated by Horace Williams. Original plans for Carolina North included keeping the airport open, but later modifications eliminated the airport from the plan. Even so, the economic downturn could keep the airport operating a little longer as the pace of work on Carolina North slows, giving the university more time to find a suitable replacement site.

AOPA is planning a meeting with UNC President Erskine Bowles early in 2009 to discuss the issues surrounding the airport. The university uses Horace Williams in an outreach program that brings medical care to patients in rural North Carolina who would not otherwise have access to critical and special medical treatments.

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