THE scale of the challenges facing struggling Prestwick airport was laid bare yesterday with widespread scepticism greeting the publication of its long-awaited development blueprint.
The “strategic vision” document stakes the Ayrshire airport’s future on bids such as its plans – possibly ill-timed in the light of yesterday’s Virgin Galactic crash in California – to become the UK’s first spaceport, while admitting there is no immediate prospect of a major revival of air passengers.
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Ministers bought the loss-making airport for £1 a year ago to avert its closure and save thousands of jobs in the area.
They have already loaned the airport £15 million, with a further £10m earmarked for 2015.
Ryanair, Prestwick’s sole passenger airline, cut flights to as few as one a day this week, as it launched its first flights from rival Glasgow airport.
The document stated: “Prospects for growth from new airlines other than Ryanair appear relatively limited.”
It said there were “excellent opportunities” for boosting freight traffic, which has already started to rebound, and potential for more aircraft maintenance and pilot training.
Prestwick is also one of eight bidders for the spaceport, which is due to open in 2018.
However, the report said the airport’s 50-year-old buildings were “aged”, with a maintenance backlog and millions of pounds required for a new radar and “significant” refurbishment of the rail station. Aviation experts said the document showed Prestwick faced a tough struggle.
Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, said: “While the airport is in public hands, it’s secure for now.
“But we only have to look at the recently closed Blackpool airport to see that not all fringe players will or can survive.
“Its longevity is certainly in question and I am not enthused by what I see here.”
John Strickland, of JLS Consulting, said: “The development of the strategy will be a challenge due to both current economic conditions and the intense competition for business with Glasgow and Edinburgh.”
Edinburgh airport chief executive Gordon Dewar dismissed the document as “not credible” and said millions of pounds were being spent to turn around a “failing” business with “little prospect of success”.
Labour infrastructure spokesman James Kelly said: “Nearly a year – and £20 million – later, workers have no sense of what direction the Scottish Government will take Prestwick.”
Prestwick airport chief executive Iain Cochrane said: “Everyone acknowledges there is no quick fix solution for Prestwick but we firmly believe that the airport has a bright future.
“We believe our strategic vision can deliver the growth that will allow Prestwick to return to the private sector as a profitable airport.”
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the report was the next step towards Prestwick becoming a “successful and vibrant” airport.