Who's buying the airport?

Yesterday the Chapel Hill News reported without questioning a study* saying that the economic benefit of a new airport in Orange County could be four times the impact of the current Horace Williams Airport. Would a new airport be four times as big and have four times the traffic? Who would want that? And for that matter, who the hell would use it?

I understand the benefit of the current airport to the University, the hospital, and the state. But I just don't see how having an alternative to Raleigh-Durham benefits the average Orange County resident. Most of us don't have private planes, and when we need to fly, we use the commercial airport. The tax benefit to local government is negligible compared to other possible uses of the land.

I'm just not buying this.

* This figure ($53,000,000) was based on a consultant's study. But they don't say whose consultant.  UNC? Orange County?  I have been disappointed to see that County staffers have been speaking out in support of a new airport. I doubt they are on the same page as the County Commissioners.



Here's a classic quote from Roger Perry responding to a letter from a landowner in the White Cross are who's land might be taken for the new airport. Perry first noted the direct connection between Carolina North and a new airport and then wrote the following:

"Carolina North is not only the future for the research and discovery at the University but may well be the largest key to ensuring economic prosperity in the State of North Carolina in a flat world"

The world is flat?  (seriously, what does he mean?)

In other words nah-nah-neh NC State; our research campus has an airport and yours doesn't.

I am sure east-west partners will be swooping in with a meadowmont north in short order......


A friend looking for real estate in the country within commuting distance of CH told me she found a high-end development with its own runway, so there's got to people around here with private planes.


I understand one of those with a plane is Bob Epting and his law partner is ... Speaker Hackney. Interesting?
Old news
Yep, I saw that development too. CZEI.  It' s near the Orange/Alamance line. Not sure what side of the line it's on.   
It is on the Alamance county side of the line.
If the University buys the land the County will NOT receive one tax cent because that land will disappear from the tax rolls forever. Where is the benefit for the County taxpayers?


There is an old joke regarding the economics of aviation:  "Question-  Want to know how to make a million dollars in the aviation business?  Answer-  Begin with 10 million." 

I recommend a cautious wait and see.  Airports are expensive to build.  In general, smaller airports serving smaller communities are closing.   But the airports in Lee County (Sanford) and Burlington are thriving.  Wake County is actively considering constructing a new airport on the east side of Raleigh.  It would be interesting to see whether another airport in Orange County would compete economically with Sanford or Burlington.  I suspect it would.

The majority of the start-up costs would be borne by the University system and the FAA.  Thus the costs would be spread across a tax base that is much broader than the County.  And the benefits would accrue primarily to the University and only secondarily to Orange citizens but these benefits could be significant. 

Still, it is a very long process from forming a committee and airplanes on a runway.  I recommend keeping an open mind and following the process before making an uninformed judgment pro or con at this point.

In the sprit of full disclosure, I should say that I am an active general aviation pilot with a generally favorable bias toward airports and airplanes.

Dan vdMeer


Then why does the University want to take land by eminent domain (force)? Why is the Airport Authority a "municipaility" out of thin air, able to bypass county permits and regs? and why does the university feel the need to stack the authority with a two-thirds majority of university and legislative appointees?

 It just does not stand up to reason.

As the crow flies, I live exactly one mile from the HW Airport and I must say that the noise from the planes is very loud in my area. I would support the relocation of the airport to somewhere else or the scuttling of it altogether.
Interesting note from this recent blog entry by Mark Schultz of the CH News: the study ranked Raleigh-Durham airport as the top option with 68 out of 78 possible points. How does that fit into the deliberation of an Orange County airport authority?


Exactly. The 2005 Talbert & Bright study ranked RDU the highest and it is by far the least expensive alternative. The university knowing that their AHEC stalking horse can't get out of the stall, now floats a magic 2008 economic report citing the economic benefits of a "County Wide General Purpose Airport" *much* larger than the one proposed in the 2005 study.

Only problem is that it is economic fantasy. Really. Read the report, it is a joke.

Meanwhile Chancellor Thorp and Roper write a downright condescending response hinting at NIMBY, quoting pie-in-the-sky economic numbers and assuring us that mommy & daddy university knows what is best for us.

They tell us opposition is premature and they want "transparency" completely ignoring how S1925 was run through the legislature and what heavy handed provisions it contains.

BTW who appointed UNC-CH Inc the planning board for the county? I don't remember that being on the ballot.

I think we should call Tom Wolfe and suggest he write "Bonfire of the University". I'm telling you, you just can't make this stuff up :)


I'm a supporter of the UNC Innovation Center at CN and have said so publicly at advisory board meetings as well as the CH Town Council's public hearing on this application. I believe that the Innovation Center is important to the University and will be beneficial to the Town in a number of ways.

There is one thing about the University's application that bothers me though. In the late spring when the University was bringing this application forward and they were asked about the status of HWA they said that the airport would be closed by the time the Innovation Center opened. The last two times I have heard this question asked (at the public hearing and the Council meeting on Sept. 25th) Bruce Rundberg replied that when the Innovation Center opened the airport would be closed if required by the regulations. That is quite different than what was originally being stated.

I believe that this is a critical time for re-establishing trust between the Town and the University. Hiding behind semantics or wordsmithing is not going to build trust and the University should be quite explicit in their intent and the rationale behind their decisions.

It's hard to know which regulations Bruce Rundberg was referring to, with respect to the Innovation Center.

The guidelines most often applied to land use around airports are not regulations - a distinction either forgotten or remembered, depending on exigencies of the moment, by both pro- and anti-airport people. What needs to be remembered is that these guidelines (which refer to recommended purposes and densities of building in various zones near the airport) were devised based on accident statistics.

As such, even if they don't have the force of law, they do mark areas where landowners (e.g., university or municipalities) could be said to be putting people in harm's way if they locate residences, office buildings, dorms, etc. in such-and-such a zone. That raises questions of risk and liability re: the Innovation Center (as it did when original plans for CN called for keeping HWA open).

It seems that Roper/Thorp might like to distance themselves from the 2005 study, and it's worth watching for signs they're going to declare it OBE'd (overtaken by events) and no longer applicable. The 2008 study - which covers different issues and is aimed at slightly different goals, I gather - nonetheless seems to give them broader bases to work with. (Would love a link to it.)

Presumably, Thorp wasn't an intimate part of the backing-and-forthing on HWA, particularly since spring '01. Although he's been in the area for a while, I daresay some of the particulars of things like FAA regs.*, land-use guidelines, insurance concerns, etc. are relatively new to him. I may be wrong, but I'd guess much of his info is coming via Roper, which isn't good news for people questioning the whole premise of siting an airport in OC.

(*such as noise and pilot/plane safety -- e.g., bldg. and tree height, lighting, markings, etc.)


As a self-confessed NIMBY when it comes to my personal turf, I must reluctantly agree that RDU is the best airport for AHEC to re-locate its air operations.  It's the safest from an aviation standpoint, if a tinch inconvenient for the medical faculty.  Of course they'd rather drive into the county instead of east on I-40 -- more hectic but not much longer.  

Here the university sacrifices a certain amount of Carolina North allure.  Corporate VIPs and other big spenders, including wealthy alumni, will have to land their private planes either at RDU or some other outlying airport.  Maybe instead of building another HWA, the university could establish a ground transportation shuttle and a special travel agency to grease those particular wheels.  


How about if we spent $50,000,000 on a rail system that would link Triangle destinations instead of an airport for the elite alumni and corporate big dogs?



If you can get the Feds to fund 90% of it like they will the airport then go for it.  UNC does not want to pay landing fees at RDU, that too is inconvenient.  Which is why they will build an airport of their own.  Since most of the elected representatives in the NC legislature are graduates of UNC-CH there will be no resistance to putting the airport wherever they want to put it.
Amen to that!
Interesting info obtained by CH News via public records request of emails. Duke wanted eminent domain out of airport bill
"We are adamantly opposed to the changes that Duke wants, which is to strip the right of eminent domain from the provision," then Chancellor James Moeser wrote in a June 20 e-mail to bill sponsor Richard Stevens. "Without that, we have nothing."

Duke University got what it wanted in the bill. It wasn't that it wanted eminent domain out of the legislation, it wanted to be exempt from it.

In NC General Statutes §116-274(b)(4):

 The authority may acquire by purchase or gift any property for the purpose of establishing, extending, enlarging, or improving an airport. The authority does not possess the power of eminent domain over property held on July 1, 2008 by a tax exempt Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) organization organized for educational purposes. In all other cases, the authority possesses the power of eminent domain and may acquire property by eminent domain for the purpose of establishing, extending, enlarging, or improving an airport.

 The full bill (Senate Bill 1925), as adopted is at:



What I find fascinating about this exchange, is that the university and legislature are negotiating this deal without involving the county or residents that might be affected. What is the universities responsibility to the community? Who are the legislators supposed to represent?

The most striking part of the article about Rep. Bill Faison justifying the airport was his unvarnished arrogance in blithely talking about going around the Orange County Commissioners so they could not get in the way.

Here's a guy who made a major campaign issue out of reforming how Orange County elects its commissioners in order to give voice to the under-represented rural citizenry who now cares less than nothing about these same people having any input on what happens to their communities.


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