There has been some talk lately about the fate of Horace Williams Airport and the UNC doctors that came to the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee meeting to plead to keep it open.  Some legislators listened and sympathized.  As reported by the N&O, doctors were saying they may have to close their clinics due to the “additional inconvenience”, and poor children would be “left behind if we don’t come there as frequently.”     I participated in AHEC programs as a student at UNC Dental School, (but did not fly to my locations of service).  I realize how important the AHEC program is in serving the patients of the state.  I very much support the doctors and appreciate their service to those in need throughout the state.  However, I do not feel that a 25 minute trip to RDU, versus the 10 it might take them to get to HW, is something that would prevent these doctors from serving those patients.  The message seems to be, “because I have to drive 15 more minutes to get to the plane, I am not going to come to you and treat you.”   Are the doctors that are so committed to these patients unable to squeeze in 15 more minutes in their schedule to get on the airplane?  I’m sure the argument is that it takes much longer to get to RDU and do the same thing.    Yes, it has been nice for the doctors to have the luxury of hopping on the plane right in their backyard.   But maybe there are alternatives to the picture that most of us have about travelling to RDU and flying somewhere.  We all think that we have to get there, negotiate parking and get from parking to the terminal, check in with tickets and bags and wait in long lines.  If UNC has its own hangar at the airport, has its own transportation shuttle set up for doctors travelling from Chapel Hill to the airport, etc, easy access to the plane with no bags to check, etc…..then maybe the picture might be a little different. On a related issue, has anyone ever thought of the security issues these days when it comes to airports being located next to large buildings such as those that may be a part of Carolina North?  I hope that the legislators will see through the portrayals of an inconvenienced doctor having to drive down I-40 that may force them to close their clinics to the poor children of the state.  I suggest the future picture may not be as bad as it may seem.  



  1. Laurin,

    I have been watching this and just want to share some thoughts.

    I can see both sides to this. I am currently thinking that the university should build another airport in OC. I know that siting an airport is difficult and neighbors who move in later don’t really understand or care that the airport was there first.

    I think that you underestimate traffic impacts in your post. Automobile traffic to RDU can often tack more than 15 minutes onto each one-way trip.

    Then, how long do they wait to take off at HW vs. RDU? The average wait time at HW is probably one minute. At RDU, it could easily be 30 minutes each for takeoff and landing. Add all these travel delays together and you have one less destination or a whole bunch of patients at the same destination who can’t be seen. I point this out because the 15 minute estimate above is a pretty big underestimation in my opinion. I want the right decision to be made based on realistic evidence on all sides.

    On the security note, I don’t think the location of the airport much matters given that a plane can go about anywhere it wants after it takes off. The security flip-side is that if something happens to RDU, we are better off having other airports in the area.

    Anyway, my $0.02

  2. I can imagine that successfully citing an airport in OC would be as difficult as siting a homeless shelter, waste transfer station, or courthouse. Talk about NIMBY.
    You may be right about the time it takes to actually get off the ground at RDU, but UNC and its doctors are creative types and I’m sure that schedules could be arranged for the doctor and the clinics they serve to continue without reduction in service. Having an airport and development at the same time, of course, does nothing to preserve the environmentally sensitive areas of this large tract, unless they cut down the scale of CN significantly. I recall an Ayers Saint Gross Map dated the year 2000 showing a Carolina North and airport coexisting at the same time. Not much land preservation and spotty development all through the tract—all up and down a North/South road.

  3. I was not suggesting that we keep the airport in its present location. I think they need to site another one in OC. I was mostly interested in making sure that discussion is based on realistic info.

  4. Your recollection is correct. The latest incarnation of CN cuts a C shape roughly from Piney Mt. to Airport Dr. The rest of the plan, oriented East to West, is heavily dependent on building on the runway.

    Mark, maybe they can move the airport to the current landfill circa 2011?

  5. Jane Nicholls

    A chilling fact:

    In a recent report prepared for UNC by an aviation consulting company, the property of both Estes Hill Elementary and Phillips Middle School sits directly within a landing zone that the FAA warns should not be inhabited. Does the University need any better reason to move airport operations to RDU?

  6. That is a chilling fact. Thanks. There should be no better reason than safety alone. Several doctors whose schedules would be inconvenienced should think about this report.

  7. Jane Nicholls

    It’s hard to believe more people aren’t aware of the details in this report. Maybe it’s time to present it to other members of the town council to make sure they’re aware of the facts in this matter.

    It also has very convincing statistics that show how few doctors actually use the airport on a regular basis.

    The report is available for download here:


  8. Jane, I am aware of the report. And I know the Town Council is aware of the report. Thanks for reminding us of it.

  9. Jane Nicholls

    I’m glad you and the other members are aware of it. Though it’s hard to believe Cam Hill has seen it, since he seems to be advocating for the airport to stay right where it is.

  10. Jane Nicholls


    Do you happen to know if the legislature will be blocking UNC’s move of the airport? I havn’t heard or read anything on the issue.

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