I know your aviation lobbyist group is based in Washington State and therefore has little direct staff knowledge about the UNC Horace Williams Airport (IGX) situation in the Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill area of North Carolina as you continue to rally to your members. However, you should at least know that the safety systems at IGX are outdated and expensive to upgrade. Most of us as residents of Chapel Hill regard the airport as dangerous and in the wrong location. The flight path is directly over the Estes Elementary School and the Phillips Middle School where my children attended. There have been several near misses from small plane crashes over the years. Also the neighborhoods surrounding the airport have wanted it closed for many years. And UNC does not want to be in the airport business.
You should be advocating a future new small private airport, if actually needed and if profitable, for your pilots’ association in the nearby more appropriate undeveloped sections of western Orange County where an airport might also be part of the overall watershed protection area as well as not burdened by any significant adjacent growth, as such growth will not be permitted. You only have to go a few miles west of Chapel Hill to be out of the future development area.
Regarding AHEC, the alternative current airport is the very convenient and modern Raleigh Durham International Airport with multiple FBO operations. The medical staff at UNC that uses the current Horace Williams Airport occasionally for the AHEC program generally leave from home to go to the airport for early morning day trips — and about 80% of the housing where these staff families live would be the neighborhoods which lie along Highway 54 and I-40 in the 14 miles between the two airport locations. RDU is served by the newly widened I-40 directly from Chapel Hill where I live and where UNC is located. I live less than two miles from IGX. I have driven every work day for the last five years from my home to RDU where my office is located on Aviation Parkway adjacent to RDU. It is an easy trip even on the worst days. Coming home takes less than 15 minutes.
I suggest that most of the AHEC users will not be inconvenienced. They will be safer and the program will be able to more easily and frequently utilize staff better from the large UNC/Rex Hospital campus in Raleigh as part of this very beneficial AHEC program. The state will also benefit from more efficient support of its other small planes already based at RDU.
The Horace Williams Airport property, now called Carolina North, is immediately essential to the needed growth of our great UNC and to house current fragmented and growing programs. The UNC Chancellor Moeser, and the chancellors before him, have been very clear about this. The new research campus to be built includes over 8,000,000 square feet of office, research, and residential buildings to be constructed over the next 50 years. The current main campus is now completely built out. The UNC housing situation is in great need. Our state legislators are very committed to the support of UNC and overwhelmingly support the immediate use of this land for university expansion. UNC is the lifeblood of our community and the overall Triangle area, especially Research Triangle Park. While a few people see this airport issue as a tradeoff, I do not as I stated above. Instead I see the minor change required for very few individual current medical staff as almost inconsequential compared to the overall UNC and community benefit which will result from the conversion of Horace Williams Airport to a world class research campus.
W. Whitfield Morrow
Editor’s Note: We are not a “lobbying group.” We are publishers. While the publishing office is on the West Coast, the writer is at Easton, Maryland. He has worked closely with physicians both at UNC and at East Carolina and has talked with many of them about the prospective closing of Horace Williams. Not one of them agrees that working out of Raleigh Durham is practical. All say that the drive to RDU would negate much of their current efficacy. Beyond that, RDU’s own growth reduces its utility for rapid response by UNC physicians.
We can only wonder at the basis for the statement that “most of us as residents of Chapel Hill regard the airport as dangerous…”
In conversations with those on both sides of the issue, the only suggestions of “danger” have come from university administrators who want to close the airport.
As to a “future small airport,” a study was done by the North Caroline Department of Transportation, which found no suitable location for an IGX replacement airport. The study also revealed that the cost of a replacement, even if a location were found, would be at least double that of the university administration’s estimate, on the order of $70 million.