UNC Claims It Has Not Relaxed Its Airport Rules

CHAPEL HILL -- Despite complaints from some neighbors, UNC says its hasn't backed off any of its regulations for use of the Horace Williams Airport.

At least a couple of Chapel Hill residents have raised concerns recently about the use of the airport, including Fred Hess in an e-mail to town officials, and Priscilla Murphy in an e-mail to Carolyn Elfland, who is associate vice chancellor for campus services at UNC.

The residents had asked about whether private jets were using the airport, and about flights in the early morning or late at night.

Elfland said the situation remains the same at the airport in the center of town off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

"We have not changed any of the policies at the airport," she said. "All the policies about when it can be used and all that are still in effect."

Murphy talked about flights in the off hours, and also said she thought some propeller planes may have been doing maneuvers such as "touch and go" landings last fall. Murphy wrote she thought there was an "increasing trend in pushing the limits of airport guidelines."

Elfland wrote back to Murphy recently to say that the propeller planes she mentioned had not used the airport, according to airport managers.

Elfland stated the airport wasn't staffed after 9 p.m., and that use of the airport after that time was "strongly discouraged."

But she also stated that, for Carolina basketball games starting at 9 p.m., there often are people who fly into Horace Williams for the games and then leave after 11 p.m. For one game in December, for example, there were 17 game-related aircraft at the airport, she stated.

"The university has not relaxed any of the operating restrictions and has no plans to do so," Elfland wrote. "We continue to publish these restrictions in aviation directories and on the airport Web site, and staff admonish those who use the airport not to violate them.

"We want to investigate any potential inappropriate use and identify the offenders so that we can get it stopped," she stated.

Elfland said that the restrictions do still allow private jets to use Horace Williams, but only if they are on university business.

"We consider people who fly in for basketball games to be on university business," she said.

Elfland said there also have been a couple of phone calls about flights in the morning as early as 4 a.m. or so. But she said administrators have checked with Raleigh-Durham International and learned the planes were coming from that airport.

"A lot of people think it's unauthorized use of Horace Williams, and it's not," she said. "It has always turned out to be [planes] routed over Horace Williams at really low altitude from Raleigh-Durham. From what I understand, if the weather is just right, you can really hear them very loudly."

The policy manual on the airport Web site at says it's open for normal operations from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. It adds that, for planes not based at the airport, the pilots have to request permission 24 hours in advance if they want to use the airport before 6 a.m. or after 9 p.m., "except for aircraft on University or UNC Health Care Systems business."

Horace Williams Airport sits on the future home of Carolina North, UNC's proposed satellite research center, and university officials are planning to close the airport when site work begins for the new campus. However, the university will have to find an appropriate site for Medical Air Operations, which uses the airport, before it closes down Horace Williams.

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