Aviation companies are prepared to fight for their livelihood, even if it means taking legal action against a proposed plan to remove the Milford airstrip.
Air Milford chief executive Hank Sproull said he left a meeting about the Milford Opportunities Project in Queenstown last night feeling "disheartened" and shaking his head.
It was a chance for the project's governance group to discuss its master plan for Milford and Te Anau with Queenstown and Milford Sound tourism operators, Destination Queenstown representatives, and Wakatipu's aviation community members.
Governance group chairman Dr. Keith Turner said he understood the proposal to close the airstrip was controversial, but that it was not a lost opportunity for fixed-wing operators.
While helicopters would still be permitted at Milford, fixed-wing operators would instead be encouraged to use the Te Anau airstrip.
However, Sproull said "everyone [at the meeting] was very disappointed at the pathetic proposal to remove the aerodrome".
He felt that the effect on operators had not been properly considered.
"They do not know what it is going to mean for the aviation industry in Queenstown, Te Anau and Wanaka ... It will be wiped out."
If it came to it, the entire aviation group would take legal action, he said. "We have to. We have to fight for our livelihood."
Glenorchy Air owner James Stokes said he got the impression Turner had already made up his mind and felt the aviation industry was "shut out" of the conversation.
"Every other sector within tourism in Milford Sound had some influence on the governance group. Aviation was never offered that."
Flying passengers to Milford drove 90% of Stokes' business.
"How are we supposed to adapt to something other than what the market wants?" he asked.
However, Turner said it was not a loss of opportunity for fixed-wing operators, but a change in opportunity.
"The fixed-wing [operators] have already told us the 'wow' factor in their trip is over the alps. We want them to continue that and fly around Mitre Peak if that's what their passengers want"
"We do think there is a fantastic airstrip at Te Anau and if their passengers want to link up with the park-and-ride and go up the corridor [to Milford by road] ... that is even better."
Turner said the group proposed to repurpose the airstrip at Milford to maximise the "fantastic sight-line" to Mitre Peak and enable visitors to explore by foot.
He believed the project overall would take about 10 years, but that some aspects, such as closing the airstrip, could happen "relatively soon".
"If I had the freedom to act, I'd act quickly, because the longer it's uncertain for the operators, the more stressful it is.
"They won't see it that way — I know they won't see it that way — but, ultimately, clarity of decision is what's important," Turner said.