Airport Closure Cut from State Budget

By WCHL News Posted August 5, 2013 at 11:03 am

CHAPEL HILL – Your local airport isn’t closing, at least not yet.

Horace Williams Airport is not going to close, in spite of the media attention that was given to an item that was inserted as a rider in the budget bill that called for it to close on August 1.

The consensus in the legislature is that the item was placed in the house budget bill as a bargaining chip with Senate Rule Chairman Tom Apodaca, who has a reputation as a strong defender of the UNC airport.

WCHL reached out to members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committee but members were not forthcoming with additional information.

There is currently no scheduled date for the closure of the airport.  UNC has planned to close it since 2002 to make room for Carolina North.

UNC previously had a greater involvement with Horace Williams when it was used as part of the Area Health Education Centers’ MedAir program to fly doctors to inaccessible parts of the state. In 2011, the site of the MedAir program was changed to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Horace Williams is also the source of local weather data for the National Weather Service.

Terry Hudgins, observing program leader for the Raleigh weather forecast office, says the NWS has a co-op weather observer site in Chapel Hill that records precipitation levels and maximum and minimum weather that they could use instead of Horace Williams, in the event of its closure.

“That won’t include winds or anything like that, but it would be one source of some weather data that we would be able to get,” Hudgins says.

Hudgins says there are also volunteer weather observers that are across the counties that can give precipitation data, as well as storm reports, for the local area.

“It’s a collaborative system for rain, hail and snow,” Hudgins says. “So, the different types of [precipitation].”

Horace Williams Airport was one of the first airfields in the state and was bought by UNC in 1940. In 2012, the airport had a net cost to taxpayers of $68,319.

The restrictions at the airport only allow for planes that weigh, at most, 12,500 pounds. The restrictions also ban Stage One aircraft and any aircraft that generates more than 85 decibels at 100 feet altitude.

These regulations, including a change to limit the runway to 4,000 feet, were implemented after a Cessna crash in 1998 at the airport. The last crash on the Horace Williams Airport was in 2010 when a plane crashed trying to land, killing the pilot.

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