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The Daily Tar Heel

Offcials: Airport Safe for Area

In the past three years, there have been five crashes near the airport, close to areas that might become part of a dense research area under UNC's Master Plan for the tract. The airport, which is owned by the University, is slated to remain where it is, but high-tech research facilities are planned nearby.

Last Thursday, a single-engine Chapel Hill Flying Club plane lost power during takeoff and made an emergency landing just west of the airport. No injuries were reported.

But some residents living near the airport see the risk of another crash, especially a more destructive one, as cause for alarm.

"The two recent crashes illustrate clearly the risks associated with having an airport in the vicinity, risks that range from property damage to human loss," resident Priscilla Murphy wrote in a letter to The Daily Tar Heel.

"It's astounding that plans for the Horace Williams tract ignore the fact that they put everyone living and working there in demonstrably hazardous proximity to the airport."

But both University and Chapel Hill Flying Club officials say Murphy's fears are exaggerated.

Master Plan Director Jonathan Howes said he was confident the airport would pose no threat to nearby buildings, even after several more mixed-use facilities are built in the area.

"There are facilities near the airport," he said. "(But) to date, the planning committee has felt the airport was compatible with the uses nearby."

Chapel Hill Flying Club President Bill Sawyer also said he thinks buildings near the airport are safe.

"I've been told that people expressed concern with building these buildings," he said. "The people who have raised these concerns are well-intentioned, but they're fundamentally ignorant of aviation safety. Just because you have a building right next to an airport does not mean that there's any safety risk."

Sawyer praised the measures already in place at the airport, which he said are already stricter than Federal Aviation Administration regulations require.

According to UNC regulations, present restrictions include limits on times during which the airport can be used and on the types of planes allowed access.

Stage 1, or "straight pipe" jet aircraft and any planes louder than 85 decibels at 100 feet are prohibited from Horace Williams, as are planes that weigh more than 12,500 pounds at takeoff.

Sawyer said Thursday's emergency landing could be an opportunity to ensure everyone involved with the airport was aware of its regulations.

Vice Chancellor for Auxiliary Affairs Carolyn Efland wrote Sawyer a letter April 20 calling it "inexcusable" that UNC officials were not notified of the incident until two hours later.

Sawyer apologized for not immediately notifying University authorities.

"I certainly regret that there was a delay in responding."

James Miller contributed to this story.
The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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