Will the Airport Fly?

Many of it's neighbors have wanted state-owned Horace Williams Airport closed for a long time. It appeared that they had a powerful ally in the plan for Carolina North which took advantage of the airport's flat, already-cleared land to begin it's own march westward from Airport Road.

The N.C. General Assembly has had other ideas and continues to resist closing the airport. One of the best arguments on their side is UNC Hospital's AHEC program which uses the airport to fly doctors to more remote (and less affulent) parts of the state.

The Chapel Hill Town Council is getting pressure from UNC to move more quickly toward their presumably inevitable approval of Carolina North. But the Council has some pretty important concerns that will need to be addressed before the Town can invest more in this huge development effort.

Earlier this month, the Council unanimously passed this resolution drafted by Councilmember Cam Hill:

Whereas, the current planning for the proposed Carolina North development assumes the closing of the Horace Williams Airport, and

Whereas, the Legislature has required that the Horace Williams Airport remain open until at least Jan. 1, 2005, and

Whereas, the health care of thousands of North Carolinians throughout the state depends on the continued vitality of the AHEC program that flies out of the Horace Williams Airport, and

Whereas, state law requires that prior to any move of AHEC from the airport, the Chancellor of UNC consult with the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations regarding the feasibility, cost, and impact on the effectiveness of AHEC’s services, and

Whereas, UNC, UNC Hospitals, and the Legislature have not resolved the long-term question of the location of AHEC’s airport, and

Whereas, in planning activities for the Horace Williams property, the Town has expended tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars over the past decade in working toward unrealized plans for the Horace Williams property,

Therefore, be it resolved that the Town Council and the Town staff will be extremely cautious with the allocation of Town resources toward the proposed Carolina North until UNC, UNC Hospitals, and the Legislature have resolved the status of the airport.

I think this effectively lands the ball in someone else's court, but whose? Probably this General Assembly commitee which isn't in much of a hurry. But will UNC's administrators who have spent so much time and energy planning and promoting Carolina North step in, and how? O the drama!

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WRAL50 reported that someone in the house/senate is introducing a bill to keep Horace-Willaims open. Who's sponsoring this?

According to today's Herald Sun, the airport will be staying open until the university finds a new location--which will take 2-7 years:

http://www.herald-sun.com/orange/10-482822.html

In case you missed it, the Governor signed the budget bill yesterday (7/20/04) and it contained this provision"

UNC-CHAPEL HILL CONTINUE TO OPERATE HORACE WILLIAMS AIRPORT

SECTION 9.7.(a) The University of North Carolina at

Chapel Hill shall operate the Horace Williams Airport and

continue air transportation support for the Area Health

Education Center (AHEC) and the public from that location until

a replacement facility that is accessible to the University of

North Carolina at Chapel Hill becomes operational.

SECTION 9.7.(b) The University of North Carolina

at Chapel Hill shall report to the Joint Legislative Commission

on Governmental Operations by July 1, 2006, and biannually

thereafter, on progress locating a replacement facility for the

Area Health Education Center. The Departments of Administration

and Transportation shall assist the University of North Carolina

at Chapel Hill as needed to secure a replacement facility.

is the proposed school site in the direct path of the runway???

Yes, the proposed school is at the northwestern corner.

I was at the Council meeting last night. It was notable that the Univ. deferred the issue of the airport to the last 5 min. of a 3-hr. presentation. The next-to-last slide showed they actually intend to begin building out of order because of the airport, such that Phase 1 is NOT Phase 1. The slide had the peculiar title of "buildable under FAA regulations" and showed plans to start building in 3 areas immediately proximate to the runway. Apparently someone dug up some FAA boundaries that are much, much closer to an active runway than the State of Washington DOT study -- and pilot/neighbor Al Burk defended the idea that safety isn't an issue because "not one person on the ground" has been killed in a NC aircrash accident. (Yet.) The issue isn't what hasn't happened yet, it's the legal liability of putting people in harm's way of what could, demonstrably, happen. The slide was difficult to read compared to the rest of the pps presentation and was removed rather quickly. The question of the airport was completely sidestepped, other than Edith Wiggin asking if the airport was included in the Master Plan overall. Answer: no. Unasked: but it could remain open for how many of the 50 years covered by the Plan?

Wow that was more than I expected. Quite an eye opener, and I thank you for your input, although I consider myself neutral on the subject right now.

Irrelevent, but my interest in this stems from a friend's situation who lives very close to PTA in Greensboro and is experiencing "FedEx Hell" because they too, built near an airport (not the size of HWA of course) and are scared of the environmental impacts as well as the potential noise and financial losses they may incur.

In answer to Trish's question, "Is it really that bad?" we need only look at Tuesday's tragedy where two people were killed when their small plane crashed near RDU. It's only a miracle that the plane didn't hit a large housing complex nearby. Onlookers said it came within twenty feet of crashing into one of the apartment buildings.

Horace Williams airport has five public schools within a mile of the runway. There have been several crashes in the past few years, one on school grounds where children were playing sports nearby.

Is it really that bad? We certainly think so.

A few years ago, a study was presented to both Council and the University indicating that no buildings such as schools, offices, or residences should be built within about a mile of an active runway. This was based on crash statistics, since a majority of general aviation crashes take place in the near vicinity of an airport. Any plan to develop Carolina North together with an active airport "flies" in the face of all good sense. Until it was in their interest to say otherwise recently, the pilots themselves had been saying the same thing about existing construction near the airport.

I have lived near other airports (a naval airstation and Wash. DC National) and have found living near HWA more of a problem, in part because of the nuisance of all-hours flights (which has improved since the departure of the Flying Club but is still a substantial problem, esp. around sporting events and vacations); in part because of the embeddedness in the community with almost no reasonable margin at either end of the runway; and in part because of the history of crashes in places as alarming as the intersection of Airport and Estes Drive and the end of a school playing field.

As to AHEC, its value to the state is great, but it does not live or die depending on the 6 planes now based at HWA. There are many parts of the project and many participants in it that don't depend on having those particular planes and that particular airport. However, current "surveys" about AHEC have been constructed and performed by airport advocates and those with an interest in expanding the project, hence the apparent change-of-mind on the part of some who originally said they could operate quite well out of RDU. AHEC has become a tail wagging this "dog" of an issue, and a clear view of what AHEC actually needs to do its work is being obscured.

It is almost impossible to overestimate the power that the pilots' lobby has, particularly in the legislature. The very strong likelihood is that if closing airport is postponed for even one day after next January, it will remain open virtually indefinitely. Despite rumors of efforts to find a location for a new airport and a lot of talk from AOPA about matching funds to build one, the politics of actually doing that are at least as daunting as the ones now boiling up around Carolina North. The idea of retaining the airport as part of Carolina North is creeping into the discussion as either a temporary or a permanent compromise. Either way, the town would not be a beneficiary, yet the town would be expected to rezone the area and approve the plans. And the irresponsibility of developing around the airport and using it as a medical/business centerpiece of the project is obvious to anyone who even thinks for a second about the ramifications of even one crash into a University building.

What are the pros and cons of leaving airport open? Is it really that bad?

Trish, I built my house ten years ago knowing full well that it had an airport on one side and the PR Lot on the other, and both have a tree buffer. I have lived near airports almost all of my life and my wife and I were not too concerned about HWA.

When UNC System President Spangler told a friend coming to Chapel Hill to receive an award that he could land his jet at HWA, I an many of our neighbors became concerned. If someone could unilaterally change the rules that governed the airport without any discussion or citizen input, what else might UNC do there? Spangler said that he didn’t know that their was an agreement with the Town not to let jets land, but the fact that his friend asked for an exception to policy suggested that a reasonable person would not draw the conclusion that the president did.

After this incident, the Town Council put together a committee to make recommendations and after the report was accepted, it’s major recommendation that UNC establish an advisory board that included all interested publics was implemented by Chancellor Hooker. During the time that the committee met, the operations manual (http://www.airport.unc.edu/) was reviewed and improved by the Board. During that period, there were several crashes near HWA and the lease with the Flying Club was not renewed.

In May, 202 Chancellor Moeser announced that he was going to close HWA. "We are demonstrating responsible fiscal decision-making at a time when the state of North Carolina is in severe fiscal distress," UNC Chancellor James Moeser told a news conference. Closing the airport, he added, was "the most responsible action the university can take." CHH Editorial (May 02, 2002):

“The landing strip had cost UNC $250,000 in capital costs each year over the past decade. Officials projected a $100,000 budget shortfall for this fiscal year, partly because the Chapel Hill Flying Club was evicted from the airport after a crash last summer.

“The university also would need to spend an additional $2 million in safety and security improvements at the airport, to bring Horace Williams into compliance with federal rules.

Almost immediately after the announcement, the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) organized it’s forces to oppose the closing. Along with the AHEC leadership, the case was made that closing HWA would seriously affect the operation of the critical AHEC program. That’s when the State Legislature put closing on hold until January 2005 and formed a committee to make recommendations about the future of HWA.

So closing the airport is a major inconvenience for AHEC volunteers, aircraft owners in Chapel Hill, recreational pilots who land to visit Chapel Hill and/or buy fuel, etc., and those jetting into Chapel Hill on “University business” (including sporting events). Note that all AHEC flights are not medically related, but also include “taxi” service for staff and faculty traveling by plane when it is more economical than driving or flying commercially.

Leaving HWA open means greater cost for what is built on the tract, as some buildings might/will require foundations that can absorb the vibrations made by aircraft. Also, the cost of Carolina North will increase because of the need to clear more land and that will have a greater environmental impact. I would also predict that there would be a steep increase in jet traffic. The only jets allowed to land now must meet three requirements: a takeoff weight not greater that 12,500 lbs., not require a runway longer than 4,005 ft., and a noise threshold of 85 decibels at an altitude of 100 ft.

Right now, UNC staffs HWA 0800-2100 Monday-Saturday and 0900-2100 Sunday. The rest of the time it is still possible to land/takeoff without anyone at the UNC being aware of it. Since the runway counter has been broken for some time, it is not possible to even know how many planes landed/took off when the airport was unintended. Except for AHEC and planes on UNC business, non-based aircraft must land/takeoff during the hours of 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Monday-Sunday. This “un-monitored access” is a concern to me, given the times we live in, but others don’t seem to see a problem.

As for if it is "bad," we are pretty much use to the noise of the planes, but the jets cause vibration in our home and they seem really loud when they take off late at night/early in the morning after late spotrs events. Of course, conceerns about more crashes is a real concern.

This has been a long answer to your question, but I hope the background adds perspective.

Looks to us like the Chapel Hill town council got snookered by the university. By failing to take a stand for the airport's removal, they've played right into the hands of the Biz school and Med school who want to use the airport to attract prospective Carolina North corporate partners who may have their own company planes.

Sound unlikely? Unfortunately not. It seems the legislature is poised to keep the airport where it is for quite a while, which means the first phases of the Carolina North complex may now have to be built on another part of the Horace Williams property.

Too bad the council didn't insist on the airport leaving instead of throwing in their support for its survival.

I have two reactions that I would like to share about the airport and the Carolina North Project.

First, if one believes Chris Hudson, should the HW airport close, AHEC would wither away, rural healthcare in NC would suffer substantially, and UNC Healthcare would lose millions in revenue that is now gained by providing follow-up care to these rural people. Please remember that Chris Hudson is a regional director of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, whose major function is to promote general aviation. Making such arguments, whenever an airport is threatened, is his job and he does it well. However please also remember that the air services are a small part of AHEC, and while AHEC would prefer to keep health professionals flying from HW, AHEC will easily survive a relocation of the UNC airplanes or even a termination of their services. As far as follow-up revenues are concerned, every doc in NC knows about UNC and refers patients here, with or without UNC airplanes. The speciality that Bob Epting and Chris Hudson noted was pediatric care; we have a world-class peds dept and a new children' s hospital -- this is why the kids are referred here, not because of the planes. We should get our AHEC information from AHEC, not from AOPA. According to the paper, AHEC has about 1150 plane landings per YEAR. Do the math -- this is 4.6 per business day, nowhere near enough action to materially impact health care in a state of 8 million people.

Second, the link between the airport and CN remains confusing. Less than a year ago, Adam Gross presented a design for CN that included the airport. Its principal slide showed a westward-looking view of the main quad, with the runway about 150 feet from and parallel to the southern-most row of four-story buildings. I was reminded of the San Diego airport, or even worse, the old Hong Kong airport -- an interesting mix of planes and buildings. Both the next version and the current version of CN assumed that the airport was closed and its space available for construction. Adam Gross, Tony Waldrop and Mark Crowell are smart people -- they know that the airport status is both very important to the design of CN and is an element of the design over which they do not have full control. Hence it follows that either they have a plan B, CN with airport, which they have not recently made public, or they know something about the airport status that we don't. They've certainly considered that an airport next door would help attract a company to CN. The only other option would be that they've spent a half-zillion dollars on planning based on a unlikely event, and they're too smart for that. An interesting power struggle may ensue between the new Dean Roper and Chancellor Moeser, against and for the airport closing. Meanwhile I agree with Cam Hill that the town should not be spending too many of its paid resources on CN until this issue stabilizes one way or another. The town does not need to follow UNC off a cliff.

The latest saga regarding Carolina North and the airport reflects an interesting town gown balance taking part. UNC is hoping for more specific guidance in the development of Carolina North. The town has said until an application comes forward and the issue of the airport is resolved, staff will not expend further tax payer resources on working on this ever changing development. In fact, many specifics already exist in the Horace Williams Citizens Commitee Report that has already been sent to UNC and has been available on the web for some time. The town has already spent a productive and intense year and a half using the HWCC to think, plan, and detail the visions of the town when considering the massive project. This report includes details UNC has chosen to ignore which are much more specific than the public power point presentations of CN. Having the development mass transit oriented from the start as specified in the HWCC report, while a concept, is clearly violated by the draft proposal. Proposing at least 1 parking space per employee and not having an obvious transit station or even a dedicated place for buses to pull in from Airport Road seem like specific details that need to be highlighted. One doesn't need a consultant to benefit from Town guidance already available on the web.

Is saving tax payer dollars for staff time on a project that may change completely a temporary roadblock or a town government trying its best to operate in a prudent, judicious manner? Treating tax dollars like dew drops in the desert is not necessarily a bad thing in government. A project of this scope and scale, particularly from a tax payer funded public institution, deserves ample caution from the town and full understanding and disclosure to the public to understand the mission of this campus and how it will integrate into the community fabric without damaging it.

Since Horace Williams Airport is being mentioned in another thread, I thought some readers might enjoy the "thank you" from a New Jersey parent-pilot with a student at UNC to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) for fighting so hard to keep HWA open.

http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2004/040827horace.html

Wow, that letter reprinted by The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) posted above is amazing in that it shows just how much clout and power private pilots have when it comes to keeping Horace Williams airport open for their own purposes. They barely even mention AHEC's use of the place. If a public official really wanted to get to the facts behind this, they need only initiate a study showing how many flights are made into and out of the airport by private owners, compared to AHEC-related flights. I'll bet the findings would be disturbing to say the least.

I agree that AHEC is an important part of our community, but that doesn't mean we have to continue to put up with an untold number of private planes zipping into and out of the middle of our town whenever they feel like it. Or does it?

Charlie, having worked this issue in various capacities since 1997 (and note that many others have many more years of experience with HWA), you are exactly right about the clout that Chris Hudson (raised in Chapel Hill) and his group have. They freely admit to how they use their power. Remember that old interest group approach for success: reward your friends - punish your enemies!

Since HWA is not manned all of the time, there is no way to get an accurate count because the automatic counter is broken and UNC says it is too expensive to fix. The AHEC takeoffs/landings are logged, but it is impossible to get the accurate count on the other aircraft without the counter.

Because UNC accepts FAA funding, HWA is an "open" airport, so the only limits in place are time, weight, noise factor and type of craft/engines.

More info and the ops manual is available at http://www.airport.unc.edu/

Fred - so does that mean the only recourse the community has if it wanted to put an end to the large number of unrestricted non-AHEC-related flights into and out of HWA is to petition UNC? That sounds like something the town should have done a long time ago, judging from all the air crashes that have occurred in and around the airport over the past several years (none, as far as I know, AHEC-related, thank goodness). Is anything like this being pursued currently -- by the town or anyone else?

Charlie, the Town has already done what you suggest. The Town has two reps on the Chancellor's HWA Advisory Board and the input from Chapel Hill and Carrboro, as well as the School Board was heard loud and clears by UNC.

As long as the FAA money is accepted, HWA remains an "open" airport. UNC says that they can't afford to not accept the money. Remember too that the Chancellor wanted to close HWA to pursue his Carolina North plan. The legislature stopped the closing, so it's now State law that the airport must remain open until AHEC is relocated. Don't hold your breath on that happening anytime soon, as I don't see a nearby community welcoming an airport.

PS: See my post above http://orangepolitics.org/2004/04/will-the-airport-fly/#comment-17427
for some additional background.

Fred - Thanks for providing all the info; I can't believe how out of the loop I was on this issue. So, since FAA regs. show that the airport isn't a safety hazard where it is, does this mean UNC is revising its plans and will develop Carolina North while HWA continues to operate? Do you know if they have provided any new plans that reflect this?

I've recently (over the past month) heard some flights either landing or taking off from HWA between 5- 6 am---I've been awakened and noted the time. Are there some limitations on when non-emergency flights can use HWA?

Anita: I have heard them also, and recently one at 3:30am. As nobody mans the airport at that time, who knows who is taking off or landing! Aircraft on University or UNC Health Care System business can take off and land at any time of day or night. The Airport is open for normal operations during the hours from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. seven days a week. Non-based aircraft must get permission at least twenty-four hours in advance from the Airport Manager to use the facility 9pm to 6am..

Of course, those jets on "official business" that are carrying folks attending UNC "events" can depart after the event is over regardless of the time. Listen closely Saturday night and you will probably hear more than one jet leave after 9pm, since the "event" starts at 6pm.

Charlie: UNC indicated that they would continue with their plans for Carolina North, HWA closed or not. I have not read or heard anything to the contrary. Without the cleared land the airport currently sits on being available, it seems to me that the "new" plan will cost a whole lot more, not to mention what might have to be done because of an active runway as a neighbor to research facilities. Maybe Ruby knows more from her committee work.

If the airport isn't staffed between 9pm and 6am, who enforces the requirement that "Non-based aircraft must get permission at least twenty-four hours in advance from the Airport Manager"? Seems like a potential security risk to our community.

Who enforces? The honor system! LOL!

When I made that argument Terri, I was told that I was just overreacting to a non-issue! Why isn't HWA manned? The UNC folks say it would cost too much. I made the argument that drugs could be flown in at 2am and who would be the wiser. Well, the UNC police do random partols of the area at night so, ...

In the post 9/11 environment, I have even more concerns, but the Advisory Board last met three years ago, so maybe there isn't even a Board any longer.

Welcome also, Steve. Hope you enjoy it here as much as we do.

As for the comment about post 9/11, my concern is not that we will have something like the World Trade Towers, but that an unsecured airport can be used in creative ways that we have never even considered. We seem to do well fixing security problems after the fact, but it seems to me that we seriously error if we continue to understimate the creativity of our sworn enermies. Why make it easy for people like that?

I'm not (yet) a resident of Orange County, but my family and I are moving to Chapel Hill early next year and I've been lurking here for a while to get a feel for the community, so hopefully you'll indulge my comments.

In my opinion, a small community airport can be considered much like a road. Pilots flying on university, family, or personal business use the airport on their own schedule. As was pointed out earlier, the airport is not to be used between 9pm and 6am by "transient" (out-of-town) aircraft. Even without that restriction, the traffic flow would be extremely light - if for no other reason than there's not too many people who choose to wake up at 3am and go fly someplace! Enforcement can be tricky, but the restriction is published in various federal aviation publications, and thus all pilots should be following it. I myself have flown into RDU when I knew that I would be arriving after 9pm while on a house-hunting trip, despite the longer drive and increased congestion at that airport.

At my current residence (just outside Washington DC), I've only made 6 flights EVER that would be considered "middle-of-the-night", between about 11pm and 6am. In all six cases, I was transporting a human organ for transplant, and the need was urgent. (Like many pilots, I volunteer my time and services for volunteer medical flight organizations like Angel Flight and Volunteer Pilots Association.) So, if and when you happen to hear a plane at an offensive hour, please try to keep in mind that there very well may be a good, perhaps life critical, reason for it - it may not just be some "fatcat" flying in for a game!

As for security, the runway length of the airport prevents anything even remotely close to the size of aircraft used in the 9/11 attacks from using the airport. Smaller aircraft could conceivably be used by terrorists but would likely have much less effect than a Tim McVeigh style truck attack.

It seems to me that the airport could be beneficial to the community in light of Carolina North - in the midst of congestion and traffic, the airport could actually be a good neighbor by providing a bit of open space and tranquility (relative to what Carolina North will likely bring).

As a full disclaimer, I am a pilot and aircraft owner. I'm also a member of "AOPA" mentioned earlier in this thread, but only as a rank-and-file member, along with more than half of all pilots in the country; I have no other higher affiliation with them. For what it's worth, I live just about across the street from an airport now, and I also dislike being awakened at 5am on the rare occasion a plane is taking off at that time. (Just as much as I dislike being awakened by my neighbor's lawn mower early on a Saturday, or by a loud garbage truck or motorcycle, etc. Or, dare I say it, a leaf blower!)

In any case, just thought you might want to hear from a potential user of the airport. I've been reading this blog for a while and am looking forward to being a part of the community in the near future!

Hi Steve - And welcome (in advance) to our community; you're going to love living here in the Southern Part of Heaven. I must say that, while I don't believe having an airport inside our town limits is much of an asset for most of us, as long as the FAA says it's safe I guess it's just something we'll have to continue to live with. By the way, will they allow you to house your plane there when you move?

Thanks for the warm welcome! We are definitely looking forward to the move to CH.

Just to answer a couple of comments quickly: First, I'm not sure if I'll base my plane at Williams or not. One issue is that there are no available hangars at Williams, just outside spots - kinda like deciding whether to park your car outside or in a garage... Another issue is that according to the ops manual that Fred linked to above, I'm at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of who is permitted to have an aircraft at the airport (UNC staff/students first, etc.) Don't worry, though - even if I do end up at Williams, I'm pretty much a weekend flyer. And I hate getting up early so you won't have to worry about me flying before dawn! :)

Fred, I agree there are some simple things that could potentially help security that I think everyone would be in favor of... For example, I don't remember specifically whether this applies to Chapel Hill or not, but some smaller airports don't have security fencing or lighting at night. These would be a couple of basic, relatively low-cost security measures that nearly everyone could be in favor of (assuming the lights are adjusted so as not to cast light pollution on the neighbors at night.) Personally, I feel that some low-cost, common-sense measures like these are sufficient to secure a small airport, though I certainly respect your opinion if you feel that more may be necessary.

As for the "jetset" crowd... Does anyone know whether the city or county receives any portion of the fuel flowage fees at the airport? In some jurisdictions, a reasonable number of jets are welcomed or at least tolerated because their presence (gas purchase) ends up generating revenue for the municipality running the airport. I'm guessing that since UNC owns the airport and pays for the upkeep, that they also get to keep whatever revenue is generated by fuel sales, but that's just a guess.

Thanks again for the welcome! After we move, I'd be happy to take anyone on a quick flight in the area if you're interested in seeing how the airport is used from the "inside".

Having lived within a stones throw of Horace Williams for about 14 years, 12 of them continuously since 1992, I'm fairly familiar with the airports operation.

AHEC planes used to crank up their engines between 5:30am and 7:30am, I'm assuming to warm them up, most weekdays. While loud enough to wake one, eventually we got used to the sound. Considering the mission of AHEC, offering rural communities locally unavailable specialty care, it was nearly ;-) forgivable.

What ticked me off, as it appears it ticked of Col. Black, was when Herr Spangler lifted the ban in '97 on the alumni jetset. The noise-level of these jets is distinctly loader, and usually occurs much later, than the AHEC craft. And, unlike AHEC's prop-craft, has no socially redeemable value.

It's a little hard to stomach it when the only reason it occurs is so that some fatcat can avoid a 20 minute ride from RDU to a football/basketball game. Of course, I felt the same way about the Dean Dome's special $2 million alumni "gold-brick" road - another expensive imposition to satisfy a few alumni.

I'm with Steve on retaining the airport. As long as the airport is there, UNC will be forced to preserve some of the green space in the area - maybe long enough, hopefully, for wiser leadership (Friday-like) to prevail.

Does anyone know what's happening with Horace Williams Airport? Last I heard, its removal was going to get voted on in the NC house, but I never heard about the outcome.

Anne Blyth has a story in today's N&O on the action in the House on HWA. http://www.newsobserver.com/news/orange/story/2513320p-8917424c.html

Now the House and Senate must work out their differences on HWA as part of the budget bill. "The state House of Representatives wants a legislative research commission to spend the next year hearing from physicians and pilots in the Area Health Education Centers program."

"The Senate proposal would require the university to keep Horace Williams open until the rural health outreach program's planes could be based at RDU."

Bottom line: the HWA story is far from over.

In truth, the issue isn't really about AHEC's viability at all. After all, it should be an issue handled within the university system.

It's obvious to anyone who cares to look behind the curtain that Speaker of the House Jim Black is in AOPA's shirt pocket. This powerful national organization will stop at nothing to keep any and all airports up and running for the convenience of its members, who are private pilots and aircraft owners. I just wish someone in the press would bring this all out into the open.

Does RDU want AHEC? How much will that move cost and continue costing through operating expenses? What are the environmental costs in terms of the added drive time? Plus as the AHEC director said in the N&O article, what are the costs to patients around the state?

I appreciate hearing everyone's predictions on the political issues here, but it would be helpful to have some data, on both sides of the controversy.

A brief skim through literature available on the web indicates the serious environmental damage posed by air travel (water pollution, air pollution, children's health--asthma, etc.). But air travel is more fuel efficient than automobile travel. According to one report I skimmed, airports are more cost effective than light rail. I wasn't able to find any credible costs/benefit analysis comparisons.

Politics aside, is the local community better served by having the airport here with improved regulation? What about the state (taxes, health care, pollution)?

This is the source for most of the studies I skimmed:
http://www.us-caw.org/

If the MD's involved in AHEC wouldn't agree to an extra 10 or 15 minute commute to RDU in order to fulfill their vital mission, just how dedicated to that mission are they, anyway?

And as far as fuel efficiency goes, Terri, using a twin-engine plane to transport one or two people to Fayetteville and back is most definitely NOT the best alternative, environmentally or economically.

I really don't think its fair to criticize our health care personnel for not wanting to face I-40 whenever there's an emergency. By the time they get to their cars from the hospital or office and park at the airport, it's much more than a 10-15 min commute unless its very early morning or late at night.

Are you familiar with the concept of Small Aircraft Transportation System? North Carolina is one of NASA's partner in investigating the feasiblity of "jet taxis." Finally found this as the reference for the Nation report I mentioned earlier:
http://www.eclipseaviation.com/inthenews/detail_04.htm?content_id=528
http://ncam-sats.org/NCUPG.htm

Terri, what are the emergencies that you refer to?

It's my understanding that part of what UNC physicians provide is emergency consulting when patients cannot be moved here or when there is a need to provide service within the local hospital. I have no idea how often that happens and I'm sure its not the bulk of AHEC travel. Even if it didn't happen but once a year, I still think its unfair to blame physicians for not wanting to travel to RDU after decades of local access.

When I was young, my parents were always warning me about things I should do or habits I should develop in my youth that would serve me well as an adult. In my youthful arrogance, I more often than not ignored that advice. Now that I'm older, I wish I had listened to them. That's the situation I see this community in quite often these days. We aren't thinking strategically about the future. The airport has many negatives about it, primarily, its location. But local access may provide us with benefits in the future--that's what I am suggesting we discuss. The negatives are known. Let's not focus exclusively on what we want right now and consider what value we may perceive in having a local airport 10-20 years from now.

Terri -

To the best of my knowledge, AHEC does not take part in ANY medical emergencies or critical care operations; it is strictly an educational entity. Below is AHEC's mission as it is written on its website (http://www.ncahec.net):

"The mission of the North Carolina AHEC is to meet the state's health and health workforce needs by providing educational programs in partnership with academic institutions, healthcare agencies and other organizations committed to improving the health of the people of North Carolina."

I believe that's why UNC's board of trustees believes that an extra few minutes' commute to RDU would not be catastrophic for its survival.

I just called and an AHEC spokesman said that 54 doctors perform procedures of various types for 14,000 patients a year and that the program acts just like a clinic would locally.

 

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