As students return to classes this week at the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill campus, pilot-parents are thanking AOPA that they still have an airport where they can land.
"Please thank Phil Boyer and everyone at AOPA who helped achieve the great result for Horace Williams Airport (IGX)," one parent wrote in an e-mail to AOPA. "My son is entering his second year at UNC-Chapel Hill and last year our family used IGX nine times, flying to/from our base at Lincoln Park, New Jersey (N07), a 2 hour 45 min flight in our PA 32 vs. a 10 to 11 hour car ride down an overused Route 95."
That was one of more than 60 e-mails, letters, and phone calls that AOPA received following the word that the North Carolina legislature had decreed that IGX would remain an operating airport for the foreseeable future. And that decision was the result of determined advocacy over three years on the part of both AOPA and North Carolina pilots.
"This is a great example of AOPA of members in the region banding together to achieve a legislative solution to one of our thorniest problems, closure of our irreplaceable airports," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
The airport has served the university and the town of Chapel Hill for some 70 years. Its location, just minutes from the center of campus, makes it the ideal departure point for the university's Medical Air Operations unit of the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program. Using a fleet of Barons and a King Air, the unit transports health science faculty, medical residents, health science students, and university officials to all areas of the state. The airport also has been home to the Chapel Hill Flying Club, where countless students, faculty members, and area residents have learned to fly.
Given the importance of the airport to the university's programs, and the support the airport had received from previous UNC chancellors, the aviation community was rightly stunned when relatively new UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser announced on April 30, 2002, that the airport would be closed in 90 days.
AOPA President Phil Boyer asked for a personal meeting with Moeser but was rebuffed.
So Boyer went over the chancellor's head and, along with AOPA regional representative Chris Hudson, met with Speaker of the North Carolina General Assembly Jim Black. The state legislature, of course, controls a good portion of the university's funding.
Speaker Black understood the value of the airport and agreed that, at the very least, there should be a moratorium on the university's precipitous action.
By June 2002, Hudson and other airport supporters were personally lobbying North Carolina legislators. AOPA members, responding to an ePilot alert, contacted lawmakers as well to garner support for Horace Williams.
It worked. The legislature passed a bill decreeing that the airport must remain open until January 1, 2005.
But that reprieve wasn't enough. AOPA continued to work for more protection for the airport. In July of this year, the legislature passed another provision, this one requiring that the university operate the airport for the benefit of AHEC and the public until a replacement facility accessible to the Chapel Hill campus becomes available.
The governor signed it within a week, ensuring that the airport would remain open for years to come.
Photo of Horace Williams Airport by Jack Imperiale.
August 27, 2004