28 July 2021

Milford Opportunities?

The Queenstown-Milford Sound flight is considered one of the most spectacular flights in the world. It's days, however, might be over the the release of a proposal by Milford Opportunities, a multi-agency group charged with looking at the future of Milford Sound... In terms of flights into Milford Sound this is what it says...

Reorganising Milford Sound Piopiotahi to remove conflict, such as cruise ships and the airstrip.

Cruise ships are seen as incongruous with the beautiful natural setting as sometimes they block key views and release pollution. The runway is not in a sustainable condition as it partially floods in high spring tides and that will worsen with sea level rise. Groundwater is undermining the runway foundation and the runway takes up a large area of the flat area in the sound, for flights that are for only a small number of visitors. 

The removal of the runway will enable the creation of an outstanding reveal of Mitre Peak and the sound and the ability to link Deepwater Basin and Freshwater Basin with new walkways and vantage points – places to experience the wairua of the place.

The full report and more information can be found here... https://www.milfordopportunities.nz/

Photo : A Murphy

Some more details from the final report... https://www.milfordopportunities.nz/assets/Projects/210503-MOP-Masterplan-FINAL-85.pdf

• Phase out fixed wing airplane flights and the aerodrome to repurpose and reconnect place, enabling improved access to a range of services and attractions.

• Mayor Boult has a view that developments in aircraft technology will bring logic to the retention of the Milford air strip and he does not support the Governance Group’s view of closure. 

Removal of the aerodrome runway for fixed wing flights will allow for spatial optimisation of Milford Sound Piopiotahi. Its removal will improve the visitor experience, reduce environmental impacts and avoid costly runway maintenance and upgrades, while having only a minor impact on visitation. This will free up additional space for other uses, such as a realigned road entry, bus terminal, publicly accessible view shafts/observation points and greater walking track connectivity across the Cleddau Delta. The use of helicopters would remain, with helipads being relocated to the south east along Pembroke Drive. Helicopter approach will be designed to minimise noise and disruption to ground visitors.

Redeveloping the runway is the biggest opportunity in Milford Sound Piopiotahi, seeking to re-inhabit large areas of lowland delta landscape and improve public access to a host of new experiences. A large-scale regenerative landscape approach is proposed, reminiscent of the former braids of the Cleddau River that originally ran through the existing runway alignment. It is intended to reconnect those visiting Milford Sound.


Prior to Covid-19, the approximately five percent of visitors who arrived by air to the Milford Aerodrome were split roughly 75 percent on fixed wing and 25 percent on rotary wing aircraft. The Masterplan recommends that fixed wing aviation should be discontinued and the runway removed. Helicopter access would be retained and relocated closer to other operational areas nearer to Deepwater Basin. This recommendation is based on a combination of issues, including:

• Several operational and safety challenges due to its location in a mountainous area. In addition, there are highly changeable meteorological conditions, which means it currently operates on only about 150 days of the year.

• It is in an environmentally sensitive area with the presence of threatened fauna, a high proportion of impermeable surfacing and is flood prone. The latter is an issue that will only get worse over time with climate change induced sea level rise. 

• The runway is slowly sinking and needs major reconstruction work to strengthen its foundations, which will be a costly exercise. 

• There is a poor landside visitor experience without normal airport terminal facilities. 

• There is a large area of restricted public access for runway and airside facilities that splits Milford Sound Piopiotahi into two, severing direct access between Freshwater and Deepwater Basins. 

The retention of helicopter access should more than adequately accommodate high-value, time-poor visitors, and address resilience issues, including the ability to evacuate people in the event of a natural disaster. The Masterplan proposes to retain the ability to have scenic overflights over Milford Sound Piopiotahi, noting that the flights themselves are a highlight of the current visitor experience. 

The aerodrome is close to its limits in passenger numbers and constrained by the number of days when it cannot operate. Land access will more than cover the loss of air access. Fixed wing aviation provides around 3.5 percent of current access with very limited scope for growth, while the ground-based access options through a combination of tour coach and hop on/hop off buses recommended in the Masterplan will provide for up to 185 percent of current demand. Parts of the existing aerodrome infrastructure could be repurposed for bus access to enhance the existing arrival experience at Milford Sound Piopiotahi, providing a direct viewpoint to Mitre Peak. 

The currently under-utilised Te Anau Airport has ample capacity to accommodate growth without the significant safety, cost and operational challenges of the Milford Aerodrome, which means there are additional options available to existing fixed wing aircraft operators to develop their business in the absence of landing at Milford Sound Piopiotahi. This would provide the opportunity for a different model of scenic flights and increase the utilisation of Te Anau Airport, including making it a more attractive proposition for some form of scheduled air service from Queenstown or elsewhere, and would drive significant economic benefits to Te Anau and the wider Te Rua-o-Te-Moko Fiordland National Park and Southland regions.


A new heliport will be located on raised ground off the existing staff accommodation at Cleddau Village. This responds to an opportunity to reduce the impact of noise on the visitor hub and more closely associate it with other commercial operating environments, such as the commercial marina. The direct, cross-spine pathway between the visitors hub and Deepwater Basin Node will also allow more convenient walking access to and from the heliport for visitors taking scenic flights. Pembroke Drive will be kept as a service road with opportunities for clear management between landside bus layby or staff parking and airside operational areas. Existing and supplementary landscape planting will visually break up the continuity of landing pads for a high amenity visitor arrival. The existing DOC service yard off Deepwater Basin Road will be adapted for emergency evacuation landings with utility sheds that could be reused for maintenance and storage for rotary operations with additional site capacity to relocate lightweight buildings from the existing aerodrome.

The Milford Sound Piopiotahi aerodrome is not in a sustainable condition. The runway floods at high spring tide, which will worsen as sea levels rise. Decaying trees within the foundation are weakening the tarmac, which is also becoming undermined by groundwater from the Cleddau River. The aerodrome also has restricted capacity due to length of the runway and cracked pavement. Approximately 300m of the runway is low lying and occasionally floods, which will only become worse due to global warming and sea level rise

1 comment:

  1. If the aerodrome proposals go ahead, it could create a golden opportunity for float plane operators utilising aircraft such as Cessna Caravans on dedicated floats or amphibious floats. I'm not personally in favour of closing the aerodrome (although I've only ever used it once when a group of us charted an aircraft out of there for a grand scenic flight with the Mount Cook Company way back in 1994), but climate change could potentially force the issue, so maybe the marine aircraft route could be the way to go.