Milford plan data flawed, group claims

Come fly with me: Sighteeing aircraft parked at Milford Sound Airport.Photo: Allied Press files

THE man in charge of the group developing the Milford Opportunities project says it is working to address concerns about the information it used when recommending the closure of the Milford airstrip.

The project masterplan was launched in July, and while there was positive feedback, there was also frustration at the suggestion the Milford air strip be closed to fixed-wing operators.

Work is being undertaken to develop stage three of the project and governance group chairman Dr Keith Turner said there had been excellent feedback from key stakeholders at the launch which had continued at subsequent meetings.

“There are recommendations that some key stakeholders don’t like and we expected that. It’s now time to do the in-depth business case work to see how the recommendations can be delivered,” he said.

It was understandable, he said, given the lack of overseas tourism and the pressures this had created on that sector.

“We will now do the further work to collect extensive data that will address concerns raised by the aviation group about the information we had available during the stage two conceptual phase. This will include carrying out geotechnical surveys on the airstrip and likely use patterns once Covid-19 subsides.”

He noted nothing was set in stone.

“We have continued to talk to members of the group and we plan to have further conversation with them as we want them to understand the masterplan is a set of recommendations. There is a lot of hard work to be done before any actually become reality.”

Hank Sproull, ceo Air Milford

Air Milford chief executive Hank Sproull said those concerned had created a working group to lobby for their cause.

Save Milford Airport consisted of general aviation operators and wider stakeholders.

In a presentation it sent to members of Parliament and those in the industry, it said Milford Airport had always been considered a strategic asset by government, the taxpayer and tourism industry.

It was also recognised as an important piece of emergency infrastructure.

The concerns raised by the aviation group that Dr Turner referred to included information that helped form the recommendations.

However, the group felt the information used was misleading.

Included in this was a figure of $25 million to repair the runway, but the group said this was not based on any engineering inspection or report.

Instead, following a conversation with Dr Turner, it understood that figure was based on a runway upgrade in the Chatham Islands to bring the runway up to the standard required for a Boeing 737 weighed about 68,000kg, 17 times the weight of the heaviest aircraft that landed at Milford.

It also disputed the masterplan’s assumption that the strip could be used only 150 times a year due to wet weather, countering there were 180-230 flying days per year.

“They’ve got the wrong idea what needs to be done,” Mr Sproull said.