Aviation companies prepare for battle over Milford airstrip

The pilot flew from Big Bay to Milford Sound (pictured) to pick up a group of tourists. Photo:...
Milford Sound. Photo: Getty Images
Aviation companies are prepared to fight for their livelihood, even if it means taking legal action against a proposed plan to remove the Milford airstrip.

Air Milford chief executive Hank Sproull said he left a meeting about the Milford Opportunities Project in Queenstown last night feeling "disheartened" and shaking his head.

Hank Sproull
Hank Sproull

It was a chance for the project’s governance group to discuss its master plan for Milford and Te Anau with Queenstown and Milford Sound tourism operators, Destination Queenstown representatives and Wakatipu’s aviation community members.

Governance group chairman Dr Keith Turner said he understood the proposal to close the airstrip was controversial, but that it was not a lost opportunity for fixed-wing operators.

While helicopters would still be permitted at Milford, fixed-wing operators would instead be encouraged to use the Te Anau airstrip.

However, Mr Sproull said "everyone [at the meeting] was very disappointed at the pathetic proposal to remove the aerodrome".

He felt that the effect on operators had not been properly considered.

"They do not know what it is going to mean for the aviation industry in Queenstown, Te Anau and Wanaka ... It will be wiped out."

If it came to it, the entire aviation group would take legal action, he said.

"We have to. We have to fight for our livelihood."

Glenorchy Air owner James Stokes said he got the impression Dr Turner had already made up his mind and felt the aviation industry was "shut out" of the conversation.

"Every other sector within tourism in Milford Sound had some influence on the governance group. Aviation was never offered that."

Flying passengers to Milford drove 90% of Mr Stokes’ business.

"How are we supposed to adapt to something other than what the market wants?" he asked.

However, Dr Turner said it was not a loss of opportunity for fixed-wing operators, but a change in opportunity.

"The fixed-wing [operators] have already told us the ‘wow’ factor in their trip is over the alps ... We want them to continue that and fly around Mitre Peak, if that’s what their passengers want ...

"We do think there is a fantastic airstrip at Te Anau and if their passengers want to link up with the park-and-ride and go up the corridor [to Milford by road] ... that is even better."

Dr Turner said the group proposed to repurpose the airstrip at Milford to maximise the "fantastic sight-line" to Mitre Peak and enable visitors to explore by foot.

He believed the project overall would take about 10 years, but that some aspects, such as closing the airstrip, could happen "relatively soon".

"If I had the freedom to act, I’d act quickly, because the longer it’s uncertain for the operators, the more stressful it is.

"They won’t see it that way — I know they won’t see it that way — but, ultimately, clarity of decision is what’s important," Dr Turner said.



Never realized how greedy and money hungry kiwis were. I hope tourist realize that and never come back!

It seems Milford, like a lot of our treasures have suffered from being loved to death. Having been there just pre-covid it was really sad to see the way tourism operators crammed everyone in there from every direction on a sunny Southerly day. The suggestions made in terms of a sustainable future have to be listened to. Rabid calls by certain sectors of the aviation community just highlights how much they don't care about the natural environment and the delicate ecology of the region. Pretty sure I'm not the only one that would love to walk/cycle in there to experience the natural wonders and natural quiet and knowing it wasn't just a Disney façade.
Time to pull the pin on the airport and reduce road and sea traffic in my view.

Now that the line has been drawn in the sand... let's start counting how much the taxpayer is going to have to fork out before the "greedy & money hungry" Kiwi developers even get the green light to start.

And I did hear a whisper going around in Queenstown that they want to extend the Milford runway so they can land A380s ... not sure whether that idea will fly Jimbo !!

Along with the new 15 storey 5-star hotel, I hear that there may also be a new supermarket going in to get some competition going.

Plans to to build some shelters for the homeless and hungry have been trashed, everyone in that position deserves to be there, they're just not trying hard enough.

Covid Δ 2021 ... Covid Θ 2022 ... Covid Ψ 2023 and there's still one more letter in the Greek alphabet, but by the time we get to it, there'll probably only be three people left in the world and unfortunately I don't know how to fly a plane .... yet !

There probably was a time when "build it and they will come", but does that still hold true in todays world ??


I really like all of the ideas in the plan. In particular, the end of the daily bus in and out from Queenstown has to stop - utterly unsustainable and a terrible experience for visitors. It always seemed like a blatant attempt by Queenstown to retain all the bulk of the tourist spend. The hop on/off bus system is similar to that operated in parks like Zion and Bryce in the USA and work well.

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