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Aviation Museum Seeks A New Home As Airport Reclaims Hangar

The Carolinas Aviation Museum collection includes an old Piedmont Airlines DC-3
Carolinas Aviation Museum
The Carolinas Aviation Museum collection includes an old Piedmont Airlines DC-3

The Carolinas Aviation Museum has been in the national spotlight this week on the 10th anniversary of the event at the center of its biggest exhibit — the "Miracle on the Hudson" water landing in 2009. But behind the scenes, big changes are in the works: The museum is being forced to look for a new home.  

The museum says it will close and suspend most operations this summer when Charlotte Douglas Airport takes over the corporate jet hangar it has leased since 2010. The museum, the airport and the city — which runs the airport — are in talks about another potential site, which museum officials are not disclosing yet.  

Museum president Stephen Saucier said they've known for a few years that they would have to move, and he's optimistic a deal can be worked out.   

"I think the city recognizes that this facility is a valued and growing cultural attraction in west Charlotte, which we all know is going to receive a great deal of investment over the next 10-20 years," Saucier said.

After the museum closes, its historic aircraft — including the "Miracle on the Hudson" Airbus 320 — will move temporarily to other locations at the airport. It's still not clear how the closure will affect the museum's 15 employees, or when the museum might reopen in a new home.

Charlotte Douglas Airport Director Brent Cagle said the museum must move because FAA guidelines require the hangar to be available to aircraft operators if they want it. But the museum is not considered an aircraft operator.

The museum was able to lease the hangar in 2010 because it was vacant. Wachovia Bank was acquired by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and moved its corporate jets away.

At the same time, Cagle said, demand for corporate hangar space was down. But federal guidelines require the hangar be made available and that demand has returned, Cagle said.  

"We're starting to see more and more demand from the corporate aviation side of the House and more and more companies with large corporate fleets," he said.

Cagle said an announcement about a new location could come in a month or so.

Saucier said the museum plans a major campaign to raise "tens of millions of dollars" to build a new museum and education center. A strategic plan published last year said they hope it will be an "internationally recognized aviation landmark."

Saucier said the museum is also planning how to expand its education programs to address the city's goals of improving social mobility in Charlotte.  

"We're talking about how to connect our students with the opportunities that may exist in aviation and aerospace," Saucier said. "And by doing that, when we do have a new facility, we will have already built a very strong platform of relevance in the community and with students."

The Carolinas Aviation Museum was founded in 1992 and moved to the former Wachovia corporate jet hangar in 2011 when it needed more space for the Airbus 320 jet that landed in the Hudson River.  Since then, the number of annual visitors has grown from about 5,000 a year to about 70,000 a year, Saucier said.


Jan. 11, 2019, announcement, "CAM partnering with city of Charlotte, airport officials to explore new facility options"

Feb. 2018, Carolinas Aviation Museum "Planning for the Future"

CarolinasAviation.org website 

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.