Horace Williams Airport might close in August

contrib_keith

This summer, Chapel Hill could lose a piece of town history — one that’s no stranger to attempted closures.

The N.C. House of Representatives’ budget calls for the closing of Horace Williams Airport, which has served local pilots since 1928, by Aug. 1. The closing aims to make way for the construction of UNC’s long-delayed Carolina North satellite campus.

Plans to close Horace Williams date back to 2002, but the N.C. chapter of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association convinced the legislature several times to extend the deadline.

The University purchased the airport in 1940, and it served as a gateway for UNC Hospitals’ Medical Air Operations until July 2011, when they were moved to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, said UNC News Services spokeswoman Susan Hudson.

Hudson said since then, the airport has mainly been used by private pilots. Last year, 1,225 flights traveled in and out of Horace Williams.

She also said in fiscal year 2012, the cost to the University of keeping it in operation was $68,319.

Airport interim manager Kimble Wallace said he had not heard anything about the proposed closing and declined to comment further.

N.C. Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) said she was surprised when she read the proposal to close the airport.

“A member of Speaker (Thom) Tilllis’ staff told me the provision was requested by a member of the N.C. House and not anyone at Carolina or the UNC General Administration, as I was originally told,” she said.

Insko said she hopes the airport will remain open until Carolina North construction actually begins.

“A few local pilots rent space for their planes at HWA and would have trouble finding another airport anywhere in the area to accommodate their planes,” she said.

That includes town resident Keith Taylor, who has used the airport since first taking lessons with the Chapel Hill Flying Club more than 20 years ago.

Taylor bought his own plane in 1998 and has used it in his volunteer work with Angel Flight — a nonprofit that provides free transportation to medical patients.

Taylor said an airport is an asset to a college town with a large hospital.

“The airport is a lot more beneficial to the area than a lot of people realize,” he said.

He added that one of the airport’s benefits is what he considers its safe location, despite concerns some might have about small airports.

Now, the AOPA is attempting to save the airport once more. According to a recent press release, AOPA Southern Regional Manager Bob Minter has written a letter to the legislature asking that the airport remain open.

And with budget discussions continuing in the General Assembly, it appears that plans for Horace Williams are still up in the air.

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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