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


One of Queenstown’s most experienced aviators is ‘‘dead against’’ a proposal to close Milford’s airstrip, while Queenstown mayor Jim Boult’s promising to work with operators to lobby for its retention.

Milford Opportunities Project governance group boss Keith Turner unveiled plans yesterday — the result of four years’ work — which include a recommendation to close the Milford

In a statement, Turner says the group knows that’ll be ‘‘controversial’’ and will affect livelihoods.

‘‘But the airstrip is in a poor state of repair, is already beginning to flood at extreme high tides, is very exposed to alpine fault tsunami risk and would be very expensive to rebuild to a modern and sustainable standard.

‘‘It only carried about 3% of visitors in 2019.’’

Queenstown’s Jules Tapper’s labelled that a ‘‘retrograde step’’ and says the ‘‘little bit of surface water’’ from time-to-time on the airstrip might cause ‘‘the odd bit of cracking, but it’s not major’’.

‘‘There’s a segment of the visitor industry that wishes to go in by air and it would be an absolute retrograde step to close [it] off and smother it with houses — they talk about it being wet.’’

He also notes operators have invested in quiet aircraft, like the Caravan, to operate in Milford, which is 90% of their work.

“Dead against it”: Queenstown aviator Jules Tapper

‘‘I don’t think this has been properly thought through, to be honest.

‘‘I think it will be a very, very negative thing, I think you’ll find there’ll be a big groundswell of opposition to it, I really do.

‘‘I’d be dead against it.’’

Boult says the project’s attracted $15 million in government funding and says there are good things in the report worth pursuing — but closing the airstrip’s not one of them.

‘‘We have to be very careful we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater here and I think we’re in danger of doing that.

‘‘If we close the [airstrip] it’ll be gone forever and it, in my view, would be a serious mistake.

‘‘I did oppose it when I was part of the Milford Opportunities group, unfortunately I wasn’t able to convince the rest of the group that they should support the retention of the airstrip, so now I will be engaging with operators to lobby for its retention.’’

Boult says flights to Milford are an important part of the offering at the ‘‘quality end’’ of the market — one Queenstown, and New Zealand, is ‘‘pursuing with vigour’’.

Further, he notes plans include construction of an interpretation centre and accommodation on the site, so questions how legitimate the safety concerns, or state of the land, is.

The plan’s being launched at a series of meetings in Queenstown today.