Prestwick Airport plan ‘could have been clearer’

THE business case for the Scottish Government’s purchase of Prestwick Airport could have been clearer, according to the official accountable for the acquisition.

Prestwick Airport, Ayrshire. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Transport Scotland chief executive David Middleton told Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee that he accepted the findings of a report which said that further evaluation could have been carried out.

He insisted that this would not have altered the ultimate decision and said plans for returning the airport to prosperity are “credible and achievable”.

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The Audit Scotland report revealed that the cost of bailing out Prestwick has doubled to £40 million.

It was estimated that £21.3 million of loans would be needed to keep the airport going when it was first bought by the Government for £1 in November 2013.

The figure rose to £39.6 million in a revised business plan drawn up last year.

Audit Scotland also found that passenger forecasts were ‘’optimistic’’ in the original modelling and that it failed to quantify the risk of dominant airline Ryanair pulling out.

Mr Middleton told MSPs: “We do accept the report. There are issues in the business case that could have been spelt out to the Auditor General’s satisfaction.

“I am accepting that as a fact and we could have said more about this and more about that.

“Do I accept anywhere that anyone is suggesting that there was something we could have evaluated which would have led us to take a different decision or to see the decision in a different light?

“I don’t think that is what the recommendations are saying.”

He added: “I think you can always be better informed ... it’s not every day we do this kind of thing.

“We knew there were challenges and obviously you learn more once you are in the position of being the owner.

“But there’s nothing we’ve subsequently found out or learned about the business since acquisition which leads us to reconsider any aspect of the decision-making process.

“We were satisfied at the purchase point that we could see a path for this airport to return to prosperity but we’ve never said that would be easy, we’ve never said it would happen quickly, never said it would happen in a short space of time.

“There’s no quick fix and it will be a challenge over a number of years.”

Mr Middleton was asked if he had confidence in projections for passenger growth at the airport of 6.5 per cent when UK Department for Transport put the figure at between 1 per cent and 3 per cent.

He said: “I have confidence that these are credible projections, we are confident that the vision for Prestwick is credible and achievable.

“Whether it will be or not, I think is a fair question. It remains to be seen.”