A major spike in US Armed Forces refuelling at the heavily-indebted Glasgow Prestwick Airport has seen the US Defence Department’s spending nearly double over the past 18 months, reigniting criticism of SNP ministers for abandoning their principles provided there are “enough dollars on the table.”
The unprecedented level of US defence spending at Prestwick will also raise further questions about whether US aircrews are continuing to stay at the US president’s loss making Turnberry resort, located just 23 miles south of the airport.
An analysis by The Scotsman of US federal government procurement data shows that in the past three years, Prestwick’s parent company has received nearly £25m from the Trump administration.
It comes just weeks after the collapse of a proposed sale of Prestwick, with transport secretary Michael Matheson referencing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector.
However, the spending records for jet fuel placed by the US military shows that Prestwick’s primary revenue stream has spiked significantly. Since last October, it has fulfilled 556 orders placed by the US Defence Logistics Agency (DLA), a sub-agency of the US Defence Department. Cumulatively, they are worth $12m (£9.1m).
The Scotsman revealed last June the DLA had paid more than $11.6m (£8.8m) to Prestwick for 644 fuel orders between October 2017 and March 2019.
In the 18 months since, the spending has soared, with a further 977 orders for aircraft fuel worth more than $20.8m (£15.9m). This January alone, the airport’s parent company fulfilled 103 orders worth more than $2.6m (£2m).
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, said the scale of the payments showed that Prestwick “is now, to all intents and purposes, a US military base.”
She said: “It is quite extraordinary that taxpayers’ money has been used to subsidise this, especially as the nature of the flights remains shrouded in mystery.
“I remember the SNP, in opposition, raising the possibility of rendition flights landing at Prestwick and the truth is we simply don’t know whether these flights contain detainees.
“However it now seems the SNP is content to abandon their principles and turn a blind eye if there are enough dollars on the table.”
There has been a marked increase in the use of Prestwick by the US military since Mr Trump came to office, a trend attributed by the US Air Force (USAF) to various factors, including the standardisation of routing locations.
While USAF aircraft made just 145 stopovers at the hub in 2016, the number shot up to 180 in 2017 and 257 in 2018. There were 259 stopovers in the first eight months of 2019.
After it emerged last year that at least 31 aircrews had been put up in Trump Turnberry, a US Air Mobility Command review concluded there had been no wrongdoing, and that the use of the president’s property to billet military personnel was in line with established policies.
The USAF did not respond to enquiries from The Scotsman about stopovers at Prestwick in the past year, or how many aircrews had stayed at Mr Trump’s resort.
We revealed last December how UK taxpayers have paid at least £53,000 to cover fees for US military aircraft landing at Prestwick since Mr Trump took office. The payments for landing, navigation, and parking fees were picked up by the Ministry of Defence as part of a reciprocal arrangement with the US.
We also reported allegations that Prestwick was waiving so-called service fees for US military aircraft. Airport management have repeatedly declined to comment, or release information, about the claims, claiming its commercial interests are not outweighed by the public interest in disclosing them.
Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, said: "The Scottish Government owns this airport on behalf of the public, and its officials sit on the board, so ministers have a responsibility to be honest with the public. Is there still a viable Prestwick Airport, or is there merely a Pentagon petrol pump?
“Aside from its viability as a business, there are serious moral questions which the government seems unwilling to take a stand on. Cashing in on Donald Trump’s warmongering, while American bombs continue to kill civilians in war-torn countries, is indefensible.
“SNP ministers should share the civilised world's condemnation of Trump, instead of using a publicly owned business to help his toxic, corrupt administration. Scotland can be a force for good on the global stage, but not while ministers are willing to take money from America’s military warchest. This needs to stop.”
Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “SNP ministers have made no secret of their distaste for Donald Trump but his government is now comfortably Prestwick's number one customer.
"Prestwick is one of Scotland's biggest publicly-owned assets, ministers need to be honest about who is paying the bills."
A spokeswoman for the airport said: “As we’ve stated publicly, our unique combination of geographical location, facilities and excellent customer service has helped attract a growing number of military customers from many friendly countries, including the US, Canada and Sweden.
“The fact that we now regularly service over 20 such customers is extremely welcome, especially in light of the enormous impact Covid-19 has had on the worldwide passenger aviation industry.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Glasgow Prestwick Airport is operated on a commercial basis and at arm’s length from the Scottish Government, in compliance with European Union state aid rules. Ministers do not intervene in the commercial discussions at the airport.
“The senior management team at the airport has been tasked with all aspects of taking the airport forward, including building on existing revenue streams. Prestwick has handled military and private flights since the 1930s and it remains an important part of the airport’s business.”