AOPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Representative
Ph. 704/338-9161 / Fax 704/333-0883
Save Horace Williams Airport
Contact General Assembly and Governor to Continue Operation of Airport
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has been lobbying to protect the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill's Horace Williams Airport (IGX) for more than four years. The university wants to close the airport and develop the land for its new "Carolina North" campus research extension. In 2004 the North Carolina General Assembly voted to keep it open until a suitable replacement facility was operational. However, new anti-airport language in the adopted 2005-2006 budget, along with the May 2005 vote of UNC's Board of Trustees, to close the university-owned field have placed Horace Williams in great peril.
The adopted budget language requires a commission to study the continued viability of UNC's Area Health Education Centers'(AHEC) Medical Air Operations program if Horace Williams is not available. That commission would report its findings to the General Assembly no later than the reconvening of the current 2005 Regular Session of the General Assembly in May. The law suggests that all physicians and pilots frequently participating in the AHEC program testify before the commission.
Moreover, the law requires the university to operate Horace Williams and continue air transportation support for the AHEC program and the public from that location until 30 days after adjournment of the current two-year session of the General Assembly, sometime in summer 2006.
The General Assembly's leadership has, to date, chosen not to appoint the AHEC study commission. The legislature could choose never to appoint the commission and never hear from doctors, pilots, or anyone else regarding AHEC and Horace Williams. Should this occur, when the General Assembly reconvenes in May, it will have no basis on which to prevent UNC from closing the airport.
AOPA and its more than 10,000 North Carolina members support appointment of the AHEC study commission for the following reasons:
- Horace Williams is important to pilots, businesses, and others needing direct access to Chapel Hill, including the critical medical services provided by the university's AHEC program. The airport allows UNC doctors to be in multiple teaching and patient-care locations, making them more efficient and ensuring retention of at least $25 million annually in UNC Hospitals' billings, which are directly dependent on AHEC air service operations from Horace Williams. Former UNC System President Bill Friday has described the AHEC program as UNC's most important public service program.
- Fairness to UNC AHEC patients, doctors, health clinics, and hospitals throughout North Carolina would be destroyed if the legislature chose not to complete the AHEC study provided in its own Horace Williams compromise in 2005.
- Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is not a suitable replacement because it cannot provide adequate ground transportation access to health care services or general aviation even roughly equivalent to Horace Williams. Worsening ground traffic congestion around Raleigh-Durham International would significantly delay health care professionals on the trip from RDU to the university. Moreover, RDU will experience increased flight delays due to the increased general aviation traffic formerly relieved by Horace Williams, and the Western Triangle would have no access to the air transportation system.
- Horace Williams can continue operating side-by-side with Carolina North, as was provided for in the original plans for the new campus research extension. Moreover, a replacement site for Horace Williams has not been identified and no replacement airport sponsor entity (town, county, or university) has identified itself.