University debates closing Horace Williams Airport
The UNC Board of Trustees meets this week to discuss closing Horace Williams Airport because of reduced use and much needed repairs that will cost UNC approximately $1 million.
Brad Ives, associate vice chancellor for Campus Enterprises, will inform the Board on Wednesday, Sept. 27, that the University is considering closing the airport, according to a Board of Trustees' meeting agenda.
Since the Area Health Education Center program relocated to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in 2011, the University has operated Horace Williams Airport “purely as a public amenity with no formal relationship to any university operations,” said Olivia James in a statement, the public communications manager for Campus Enterprises.
Without the use of the airport by UNC, Chair of the Board of Trustees Haywood Cochrane explained that the airport is no longer core to the mission of the University. However, the Board has emphasized that closing the airport is not a done deal.
“This is a discussion, it’s not a decision,” Cochrane said.
This is not the first time that the University has considered closing the airport. The Board of Trustees passed a resolution that dealt with the possibility of closing the airport in 2005. Use of the airport has since declined.
According to Cochrane, UNC is losing money simply by running and maintaining the airport.
Horace Williams Airport also has liability issues. An elementary school, a middle school and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA are within a mile of the airport. The runway is also in need of repair.
A private flying club was evicted from the airport in 2001 because of several accidents, and in 2010, a plane crashed at the airport, killing one and injuring two others.
The Office of the Town Manager of Chapel Hill said that they will not have an opinion on the closing of the airport until they get more information at the Board of Trustees meeting.
Horace Williams Airport rests on the Horace Williams property, which is comprised around 1,000 acres and is a prime piece of real estate for developers. Cochrane said that the University will not be selling the land if the airport closes.
“If we have the availability of looking at that land, because it’s not an airport, it could be part of our master plan,” said Cochrane, referring to the potential construction of the Carolina North satellite campus. “It would give us the chance to have a little more acreage to deal with with a completely open mind.”
Even with the potential for further development of UNC, Cochrane said the decision of whether or not to close Horace Williams Airport will ultimately come down to whether or not it is in the best interests of the town of Chapel Hill and the University.
“At the end of the day, in my mind… it’s not about money, it’s about safety,” he said.