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Milford Sound awareness


Concerning the Milford Sound subject I am putting on paper the type of briefing best suited to a visiting fix wing pilot.


Firstly, get acquainted with the GAP Milford Sound booklet.

Secondly, seek advice from a commercial operator who frequently flies to Milford Sound.


This article is to stress some pointers that will be obvious when you actually enter this Fiord on approach to runway 11 or 29.

For years the entering and exiting routes of Milford Sound are adhered to and it works. When you enter or exit Milford Fiord you will not fly down the middle even if it feels like you are flying beside the correct side. The illusion of the size of the rock face will prevent you from correctly holding the north or south side. The appreciation of other traffic within this Fiord will confirm the sheer size of this geography and you as PIC will come to terms with where to place your aircraft on approach or departure.


The word ILLUSION cannot be emphasised more within this article because this is part of the mountain flying experience.

Remember that airspeed is your friend. Set a comfortable cruise climb indicated airspeed for your type of aircraft of which you will not go less than this while maneuvering within terrain. A fully laden C172 using 80kts as a minimum speed is an example.To put this airspeed into effect will become apparent when the overwhelming feeling of instinctively pulling back on the control column as rising terrain is looming closer on your direct flight path or the flying conditions dictate the inability to maintain straight and level.

Your steepest angle of bank will be 30 degrees while maneuvering within valleys. Your passengers will thank you for this. The frequent use of this degree of angle of bank will ensure you have a PLAN and set your limitations when it comes to a point where you wish to place your aircraft comfortably in position to vacate an area, for photography, a ridge crossing or setting up for landing. If you don’t have a plan you cannot change anything!

Keep ahead of your aircraft at all times.  You must be comfortable in your office so that you can keep your eyes outside and fluidly maneuver your aircraft effortlessly.

Then as for the most important component of mountain flying is yourself as PIC. Set your limits, and set your intended flight route on the ground with your passengers so that you will not pressure yourself to a last minute decision enroute.


Combining the suggested paragraphs above with the knowledge that Milford Sound is a high tourist zone for commercial Part 135 & 125 aircraft operations where these operators based from Queenstown and Wanaka hold the pattern of joining and vacating Milford Sound VERY seriously. You as the visiting Fixed Wing PIC must conform with the regular pattern of operation and respect it.

The low wind time of day in Milford is during the morning. This will make life easier on you as a new visitor to the MF Aerodrome. Afternoon conditions during summer will introduce a sea breeze that is generally a gusty crosswind with energy increases and decreases on final.

All operations takeoff on Runway 29. Caution Runway 11 in use for landing aircraft to allow you to backtrack and line up in the opposing direction off Runway 29. Radio clarification is required here.

Once you are landed aim to turn off onto the apron and park to the far west of the apron area away from the main tarmac in front of the tower as ethically this is for the commercial aircraft park. It is best practice to turn off comfortably onto the apron area to ensure the traffic behind you can file in to prevent a go around. But at all times fly your aircraft safely and if you land without the capability of taxing off to the apron (runway11) as desired then continue rolling through to the end of the runway and clear to back track on the taxiway.


MF Flight Service will provide the wind direction and traffic movements within the Fiord. If you hear the QNH, conditions and the traffic location, then inform Flight service that you are in receipt of this information and you tell them where you will slot in to the sequence of joining. Do not make Flight Service repeat the full blurb if not necessary. Inform the joining traffic that you have them in sight. Keep the radio chatter to what is needed.


Study the AIP and know the taxi area. Upon startup and taxi backtrack inform Flight Service of how many on board and what direction you intend to vacate.


Study your map or ipad BEFORE entering or vacating Milford Sound as your eyes must be outside at all times. This means studying the reporting points on the map and the general direction of places such as St Annes, Dale Point, Arthur, Pembroke, Gulliver, Eastern passes (Adelaide, Gertrude and Donne), Ada, Dumpling and Lake Quill.


Radio calls address Fiordland Traffic 119.2 and Milford Flight Service on 118.2. “Where you are, your height and what do you intend to do”. Milford Flight Service will want to know your aircraft type, POB and intentions. Upon entry into Milford Fiord indicate you are a beam Stirling Falls, and final Runway 11 or downwind runway 29. Runway 29 is not a perfect rectangle circuit but it is imperative to set your aircraft up in the standard landing configuration that you are accustomed to. Airspeed and profile is important as the close proximity to the terrain is a real illusion and “does your head in '' so fly your aircraft for landing so that your profile on final is not too high and means you run the risk of overshooting the apron turnoff. Always fly your aircraft at all times. 

Runway 29 allows a relatively straightforward go around, however Runway 11 will have you fly toward rising terrain so if you are totally outside your limit on approach to Runway 11 have a turn away point on your long final to runway 11 so you can set up comfortably again if necessary. Filing your aircraft within the other joining and departing traffic flow is to be considered here also.


To perform an over fly of Milford Fiord the User Group of Milford Sound have set up a 5000ft level to maintain a conflict free view of the Fiord.


I offer Mountain flying courses through our Learntoflynz operation based from Wanaka and you can fly your aircraft or hire our flying school C172 if you wish. Just take a look at for further information.


Safe flying  

Cheers Sue Kronfeld, 

AOPA Executive member,  B Category Flight Instructor, CFI Classic Flights/ Learntoflynz



NZMF from above