Facing the axe: A new lobby group's been formed to fight the proposed closure of the Milford Airstrip


A new lobby group’s been set up to fight the proposal to close Milford Sound’s airport.

One of the backers of ‘Save Milford Airport’ is Queenstown tourism veteran Mark Quickfall, who says it’s brought together a wide range of stakeholders to oppose what it’s calling a ‘‘quixotic and utopian’’ plan.

The Milford Opportunities Project (MOP) masterplan was released in July after four years of planning and consultation.

Among a slew of proposed changes, aimed at creating a sustainable tourism system in Milford Sound that would be paid for by visitors, it recommends the airstrip be closed over the next three to five years.

The masterplan’s received positive early noises from the government, which says pressure from visitors pre-Covid — rising from 430,000 in 2013 to 870,000 in 2019 — has tarnished
the tourist experience in the sound.

The project’s now in a detailed planning phase, with a new board to be formed by the end of the year to oversee its implementation.

‘It’ll be a false start’: Tourism heavyweight Mark Quickfall

Quickfall, who owns businesses that operate Milford Sound flight seeing and cruises, says the new group encompasses RTOs, including Destination Queenstown, inbound tour operators, the Tourism Export Council and fixed-wing flightseeing operators.

The masterplan’s ‘‘out of step with the marketplace and realities of tourism’’, he says.

‘‘We do agree with some aspects of the plan, but from experience we know it’s going to be a false start — you can influence the market but you can’t dictate to it.’’

A presentation prepared by the group says a tourism industry decimated by Covid ‘‘cannot afford to be distracted by quixotic and utopian plans’’.

It says the airstrip’s a vital piece of strategic infrastructure, fixed-wing operators have already upgraded their aircraft, and are likely to be early adopters of electric planes once
the technology makes their Milford Sound routes feasible.

Quickfall says the group wants to work constructively with the government and the next MOP board on a solution for Milford that ‘‘makes sense, is practical and cost-effective’’.