NICOLA Sturgeon told MSPs today she was “not unmoved” by calls for Prestwick Airport to be renamed as Robert Burns International.
The Ayrshire-born infrastructure secretary said such decisions about the Scottish Government-owned airport should not be based on “sentiment”, but added that the name had not been ruled out.
She also revealed she had been “very happy” to see the airport’s controversial “pure dead brilliant” branding had been removed when she visited staff two weeks ago.
Ms Sturgeon said it was likely to take years to return the loss-making airport to profit, after being bought by ministers for a nominal £1 last November to prevent its closure.
She told Holyrood’s infrastructure and capital investment committee that campaigners for the name change believed it would boost the Ayrshire economy, but there were also concerns it would confuse potential visitors.
She said: “We should proceed carefully. It’s important that we do not take decisions on the basis of sentiment, but to give the airport the best chance.”
‘Agnostic’ on name change
Committee deputy convener and Ayrshire SNP MSP Adam Ingram said the name change was the “long-term ambition of local people”.
Ms Sturgeon said she was “not unmoved by these representations”.
However, she added: “At this stage, I’m staying agnostic”.
The infrastructure secretary said a total of £5.25 million was being ploughed into the airport, including to upgrade the terminal.
A further £1m was spent on financial analysis over the sale.
Improvements will include to the passenger security check area, and the mezzanine floor, to attract more businesses to take space.
Ms Sturgeon said virtually the entire airport needed overhauling: “You look at all of it and say ‘This really needs upgrading’.”
However, she stressed Prestwick would get no special treatment in government spending over rivals Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Ms Sturgeon said returning the airport to profit would take “a lot of effort and time”, and surplus land could be sold as part of the process.
She said the airport would only be returned to the private sector when the public money spent on it had been recouped.
She said one bid had been at a “very advanced stage” last year, but it could not be completed in the timescale set by Prestwick owner Infratil, and ministers were forced to step in to acquire the airport.
The airport was taken into state ownership with annual losses of £7m, which reportedly increased to nearly £10m with the inclusion of a reduced valuation of the site.