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Milford Airport removal sparks anger for pilots

Airline operators to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi are fuming over the proposed removal of the airport in the scenic yet remote area.

Airline operators to Milford Sound-Piopiotahi are fuming over the proposed removal the fiord's airport. Source: 1 NEWS

It is all part of a massive overhaul of the postcard attraction to combat the excessive numbers of tourists that visited pre-Covid.

The Milford Opportunities Project group wants to make visiting this world heritage site sustainable, but taking a flight there isn't part of the vision.

Operators say the airstrip is a vital asset for tourism's future and an emergency lifeline.

"We think there are possibly some good ideas in the plan.. obviously the big one for us is the closure of the airstrip,” James Stokes from Glenorchy Air said.

Hank Sproull says Milford Sound / Piopiotahi is 90 per cent of his business.

“It's been there since 1952... 70 odd years.. and I'd be very disappointed, and I think everybody in the aviation world would also be very disappointed, if it came to removal.”

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The change is part of an overhaul to avoid a return to the excessive visitor numbers seen pre-Covid. Source: 1 NEWS

Milford Opportunities Project chair Keith Turner told 1 NEWS “we've consulted with them. they won't like what we're doing.. we know that".

The group revealing all in Te Anau after nearly five years of work. Tourism has doubled in six years leading to the pandemic. At its peak nearly 900,000 visitors went to the Sound in 2019 alone.

To manage it, they want to control the flow of visitors to avoid overcrowding; have one body overseeing management of the attraction; have hydrogen and electric shuttles to reach net zero carbon... plus new and upgraded facilities.

At the Milford Corridor, a permit system would be introduced, with both international visitors and private vehicles charged for entering. The money going to infrastructure, conservation and protection projects. New Zealanders can enter for free.

But planes are out of the picture, with claims the airstrip is in disrepair, it's prone to tsunami risk and only three per cent of passengers use it.

“I think that figure is incorrect… everyone that flies with us says it's the most amazing experience we've ever done,” Sproull said.

“It's a strategic asset for the area... for disasters... flood relief.’

“They only can land about 150 days a year at Milford. When they can't land, they fly over... and I think that's a very feasible option for them… and a landing at Te Anau is [a possibility] for them so there are alternatives for these changes that we're proposing,” says Keith Turner.

Airliners operators say they can meet the proposed green image.

“We already have a very low carbon footprint for per litre of fuel burned and we are also looking into electric aircraft and these types of aircraft and going to be the first to be electrified,” says James Stokes.

The government has already put in $18 million so far to the project.

“Maybe electric planes are part of that... but you know that's for further consultation with all key stakeholders,” Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said.

Operators are meeting with the project group tonight in a hope their voices are heard.