The University of North Carolina’s (UNC) recent decision to abandon efforts to save or replace Horace Williams Airport would waste public funds and harm area health care services, AOPA told the state legislature last month.
AOPA has worked for years to preserve the embattled airport or develop a replacement site in Orange County. Last year, the state legislature authorized UNC to create an airport authority, the first step in replacing Horace Williams should it ultimately be closed. Later, UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp announced that the university instead would move medical air operations for its Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program to Raleigh-Durham Airport, leaving Horace Williams to close.
Given significant budget shortfalls in North Carolina, “we find it absurd that UNC would invest public funds in developing new facilities at [Raleigh-Durham] to replace a perfectly good airport,” wrote AOPA Vice President of Airports and State Advocacy Greg Pecoraro in a letter to State Rep. Joe Hackney, Speaker of the House. “Now is not the time to abandon an airport close to the campus that is already serving the area’s needs in favor of a move that will surely reduce the effectiveness of the AHEC program.”
Pecoraro urged the state legislature to reject any requests from the university for funds for new facilities at Raleigh-Durham. Moving AHEC would cede control over the destiny of the AHEC program and subject the university to the costs, management policies and regulations, and operational restrictions of being a tenant at a larger airport.
“We believe very strongly that the continued operation of the existing airport should be retained as a component of Carolina North,” Pecoraro wrote. Original plans for Carolina North, a new technology research campus under construction on 1,000 acres of land donated by the airport’s namesake, included keeping the airport open, but later modifications eliminated the airport from the plan.