Glasgow Prestwick International Airport

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Glasgow Prestwick International Airport

Glasgow Prestwick Airport (IATA: PIK, ICAO: EGPK) is an international airport serving the Greater Glasgow urban area, situated 1 NM (1.9 km; 1.2 mi) northeast of the town of Prestwick in South Ayrshire and 32 miles from the city centre of Glasgow.

In physical terms, Prestwick is Scotland's largest commercial airfield, although in passenger traffic terms it sits in fourth place after Edinburgh Airport, Glasgow International, and Aberdeen Airport all of which are operated by BAA. Passenger traffic peaked in 2007 following ten years of rapid growth, driven in part by the boom in no-frills airlines, especially from Ryanair who is Prestwick's biggest tenant and uses the airport as a hub. Since 2007 there has been a significant reduction in passenger traffic with 1.6 million passengers passing through the airport in 2010, an 8.5% annual reduction.


The airport began life around 1934 — primarily as a training airfield — with a hangar, offices and control tower being in place by the end of 1935. The airport's original owner was David Fowler McIntyre, who was also the owner of Scottish Aviation with backing from the then Duke of Hamilton. MacIntyre and Hamilton had previously been the first aviators to fly atop Mount Everest in 1933. With the onset of World War II, the airport developed rapidly in order to handle the large volume of American aircraft ferry traffic.

In 1938 passenger facilities were added, which were used continuously until the implementation of a massive investment programme to make Prestwick compatible with the new jet transports which were becoming available. In 1958 runway 13/31 was 7,000 ft (2,134 m) long; in May 1960 the extension to 9,800 ft (2,987 m) opened. A parallel taxiway, link road, and an all-new terminal building were opened by the Queen Mother in 1964. The extension of Runway 13/31 caused considerable disruption to road users as the main road from Monkton into Prestwick was now crossing the tarmac of the existing runway. This had to be strictly controlled by a "level crossing" type system until the new perimeter road was completed.

Military use

The United States Air Force (USAF) operated a base in 1952 on the site of the original airport using former Royal Air Force (RAF) facilities (the USAF Military Air Transport Service (MATS) 1631st Air Base Squadron), and in 1953 on the Monkton side of the airport, both used by the USAF MATS. The USAF base closed in 1966.

There had been proposed plans drawn up pre-war for the post war years which would have been classed as extremely ambitious, especially in the austere post-war years. Among the various proposals was a 4-mile (21,000 ft; 6,400 m) long main runway, an integral freight yard and railway station, and a semi enclosed mooring for flying boats and other amphibious aircraft. However, the runway was never lengthened to that degree, and the decline in seaplane and flying boat operations also meant that the latter proposal was never enacted. It is telling however, that many years since those proposals were made, that Glasgow Prestwick Airport does have its own railway station, something that even Glasgow International Airport does not have.

Today, part of the Prestwick site is occupied by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm with RNAS Prestwick, (more popularly known as HMS Gannet), where a detachment of 3 Sea Kings provide a search and rescue role, covering one of the largest SAR areas of the UK including Ben Nevis, the Lakes, Northern Ireland and 200 NM (370 km; 230 mi) past the Irish coast. Additionally, Gannet SAR provides a medical evacuation service to the Scottish island communities. Personnel at the base numbers 15 officers, 11 ratings, 28 civil servants and 50 civilian staff. The crews regularly feature as part of the popular Channel 5 documentary series Highland Emergency.

2009 saw the unit break a new record as they were tasked to 447 call outs. This figure equates to 20% of the UK’s total military SAR call outs for 2009 making them, for the second year in succession, the busiest Search & Rescue base in the UK.

Industrial use

Scottish Aviation built a factory using the original terminal building and hangars at Prestwick, which produced such aircraft as the Prestwick Pioneers, and later the Jetstream and Bulldog. One part of the factory, the large white art-deco building which remains to this day, had in fact been the Palace of Engineering that had been built as part of the Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow in 1938. When Scottish Aviation merged with British Aerospace as a result of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act, BAe maintained aircraft production at the site until 1998, primarily updates of the Jetstream line. Today BAE Systems retains a small facility at Prestwick for its BAE Systems Regional Aircraft division, with the adjoining main manufacturing site, producing components for Airbus and Boeing aircraft, having been sold to Spirit AeroSystems in January 2006.

In the beginning, Prestwick was the only Scottish airport allowed to operate a transatlantic link, largely due to the very benign weather conditions on the Ayrshire coast. Indeed, with a much lower incidence of fog than any other airport in the United Kingdom due to a geological anomaly, Glasgow Prestwick has the reputation of being "Britain's only fog-free airport". This is perhaps one reason it managed to avoid total closure when it appeared that BAA seemed to be running down operations. It was also partly a political decision to silence those that questioned why Glasgow needed two airports when Glasgow Corporation had already invested money building Glasgow International Airport.

After British Airways had ceased regular passenger operations in 1983, BA continued to intermittently use Prestwick as a site for pilot training, especially for training Concorde pilots. Concorde became a semi-regular visitor to the airport, and indeed BA and a number of other major airlines still use Prestwick for pilot training.

Elvis Presley

Glasgow Prestwick Airport is considered to be the only piece of United Kingdom territory on which Elvis Presley ever set foot, when the United States Army transport plane carrying him home stopped to refuel in 1960, whilst en route from Germany. A lounge bearing his name and a marker reflecting this event were inaugurated in 2006.

However on 21 April 2008, during a BBC Two radio interview with Ken Bruce, theatre impresario and chairman of Everton F.C., Bill Kenwright, said that Elvis actually spent a day in the UK being shown around London by Tommy Steele in 1958. Steele later confirmed the story but expressed his sadness that it was now public knowledge, saying "I swore never to divulge publicly what took place and I regret that it has found some way of 'getting into the light'."

In response, Mark Rodwell, chief executive of Prestwick Airport, told BBC Radio Scotland, that until it was proved otherwise Prestwick Airport remains the only place in the United Kingdom that Elvis Presley ever set foot. He added: "There is photographic evidence to prove that Elvis was here on March 3rd 1960, however we are not aware of any photographs of this alleged visit to London, while the timing of it also seems a bit vague."

Prestwick Air Show

Prestwick Airport also used to host a bi-annual airshow, the first of which was held on 30 September 1967. While very small in scale compared to such shows as RAF Fairford or Farnborough, the air show was a local attraction and drew a considerable crowd. There were constant rumours in later years that the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft would make an appearance, but this came to nothing, most likely due to difficulties associated with handling the special fuel. The last air show was in 1992 and there have been no efforts at reviving it since.

Changes since 1990

In 1991 the newly-privatised British Airports Authority, BAA Limited consolidated their portfolio of UK airports. Part of this was to move all transatlantic traffic departing from Scotland to Glasgow International Airport, near Paisley, and sell Prestwick off to the private sector. In the early-to-mid 1990s passenger figures fell sharply with only freight traffic and a small number of charter flights using Prestwick on a regular basis. At this point the airport faced an uncertain future.

1992 marked the beginning of a renaissance for the struggling airport when purchased by "canadian entrepreneur" Matthew Hudson in a "dramatic rescue". Hudson took the move of building the airport's own railway station on the existing Ayrshire Coast Line (Glasgow-Ayr), which runs straight past the airfield, making the airport the first in Scotland to have its own railway station. In her book about Prestwick Airport, South Ayrshire councillor Ann Galbraith writes about this tough time in the airport's history, saying that "if it hadn’t been for Matthew Hudson the airport wouldn’t be here today". Then, Irish budget airline Ryanair opened a route to the airport from Dublin. This led to another route to London the following year. The resulting rapid growth of European no-frills airlines in the late 1990s saw Prestwick grow even larger than it had ever been, in traffic terms, under state ownership. In 1998, Matthew Hudson sold Prestwick Airport to Stagecoach, a large Scottish transportation group helmed by Sir Brian Souter.

Today, Ryanair now serves more than 20 destinations from Prestwick – now one of their maintenance hubs – and other budget airlines have also moved into the airport. As well as the thriving no-frills segment, Prestwick has continued its traditional strategic role as a refuelling point for military aircraft – the USAF, RAF and the Canadian Forces Air Command are frequent visitors for example. Cargo traffic has also become another stronghold of Prestwick with the vast majority of Scotland's Boeing 747 Freighter traffic entering via the airport. On the 5th of September 2009 the A380 approached and took off from the airport

The airport is privately owned by Infratil, a New Zealand investment company which also owns Wellington International Airport and Kent International Airport at Manston Ramsgate. In April 2005, Infratil completed a major £3 million refurbishment of the terminal building, and also controversially rebranded the airport using the phrase "Pure Dead Brilliant", taken straight from the Glasgow patter. Some of this rebranding has been controversial, in particular the redecoration of the airport bar. The bar was rebranded in February 2006 with a logo depicting a man in a kilt, unconscious with an empty bottle of whisky. Despite objections that it promoted the wrong image of Scotland to foreign visitors and embarrassed local travellers, the airport management insisted the logo was "fun and visually stimulating". However, the logo was removed on March 3, 2006, a matter of weeks after its introduction, after the intervention of the South Ayrshire Licensing Board who said the logo trivialised excessive drinking.

On 6 July 2005, Prestwick Airport became the entry point into Scotland for the world's most powerful leaders on the eve of the 31st G8 summit which was being held in Gleneagles. Strathclyde Police implemented an unprecedented level of security around the airport for the duration of the summit. Officers from police forces throughout the UK were drafted in to assist in the operation, including armed officers. In preparation for the landing of Air Force One, carrying then US president George W. Bush, the A77 which runs past the end of the main runway, was controversially closed while the aircraft was on final approach.

Since 2007 the airport has occasionally been used by BBC motoring TV show Top Gear as the location for various stunts and experiments. The most well known of which was inspired by a scene in the movie Casino Royale and featured both a Ford Mondeo and a Citroën 2CV parked behind the engines of a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400, in an experiment to investigate if the thrust from the aircraft four jet engines really could lift a car off the ground.

Airlines and destinations

The majority operating Boeing 747-400F aircraft. Air Foyle HeavyLift and Volga-Dnepr are also occasional users of Prestwick with Antonov An-124 aircraft.

Facts and figures
  • Operating hours - 24 hours
  • Passengers per year - over 2,400,000 (2007)
  • Airlines - 9
  • Total Aircraft movements - over 47,000 per year (2007)
  • Destinations - 36 (7 June)
  • Aircraft types - Boeing 737-800, Airbus A320, Airbus A321, Boeing 747-400, Boeing 747-200, Antonov12,124,225, ATR 72
  • Number of Stands - 7 nose in PAPA/AGIS (1A,1,2,3,4,7,8) 5 Stands assisted by Ground Operations (5,6,9,10,11)
  • Scheduled Destinations - 32
Passenger figures

A multimillion pound plan to double the size of the departure lounge has been proposed. Prestwick has pledged to be ready and willing to handle the Airbus A380. A two storey building is being considered to replace the current arrivals and departure halls. One floor would be used for departures and the other for arrivals. It would also raise the amount of aircraft stands from 6 to 12. This process will take 18 months (Works not yet started May 2011).An Airbus A380 made an approach & go round at Prestwick Airport for the first time on the 5 September 2009.

The car park, and A79 outside the terminal building has recently been redeveloped due to new rules and regulation put in place by the Government after Glasgow's terrorist attack.

Ryanair are also in the process of building a 6,000 sq/m aircraft maintenance hangar at a cost of £8million and will bring 200 engineering jobs to the area. This is Ryanair's second hangar and will mean the majority of Ryanair's fleet will be maintained at Prestwick.

Transport links

Despite being further away from the city of Glasgow than Glasgow International Airport, Prestwick is well patronised with convenient public transport options. A forty minute train journey from Glasgow Central to the airport can even be quicker than the equivalent direct bus journey from the city centre to Glasgow International Airport/, although by train, it is marginally over ten minutes from Glasgow Central Station to Paisley Gilmour Street, from where the bus connection to Glasgow Airport takes only another ten minutes.


Prestwick airport is the only airport in Scotland to have its own railway station, Glasgow Prestwick Airport railway station, which was built by the airport in 1994. The station is connected to the terminal by an enclosed walkway over the A79 road, and platforms are easily accessed by stairs, escalators and lifts. The station continues to be owned and operated by the Airport, and not by Network Rail or First ScotRail.

All services from the station are operated by First ScotRail. The most frequent services are on the electrified route between Glasgow Central and Ayr on the Ayrshire Coast Line. Trains run half-hourly Monday to Saturday (and Sunday during the summer) and hourly on Sunday. There are also less frequent services to Stranraer, Newcastle and Kilmarnock. All passengers receive 50% off the standard adult single train fare between the airport and any destination in Scotland when they show a valid itinerary for that day. New routes are also marked with a promotional period (normally 6 weeks after launch) during which time rail travel is free to and from the airport.

The railway station will be extended about 45 meters, so longer trains can handle more people.


Buses to Prestwick Airport are operated by Stagecoach Western and Dodds of Troon, with regular semi-fast services to Glasgow and Ayr.


Prestwick airport operate their own car parks and offer both long- and short-term parking. Shuttle Bus services operate 24 hours a day, between the terminal and the car park.

Incidents and accidents
  • The first serious air accident at Prestwick was the KLM disaster on 20 October 1948. A Lockheed Constellation of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines crashed in a field 5 miles north-east of the airport while attempting to approach in bad weather. The aircraft had already aborted a landing due to strong crosswinds and had negotiated with air traffic control to approach using a different runway. It was on that approach that the Constellation struck power cables and crashed. A combination of poor weather and pilot error were to blame for the crash, with the flight crew having an incorrect above ground level reading. 30 passengers and 4 crew died in the accident, 6 having survived the initial impact but having suffered fatal injuries.
  • Early on Christmas Day 1954, at 0330 hours, a British Overseas Airways Corporation Boeing 377 Stratocruiser crashed on landing at Prestwick, killing 28 of the 36 passengers and crew onboard. The aircraft had been en route from London to New York City, when, on approach to Prestwick, entered a steep descent before levelling out too late and too severely, hitting the ground short of the runway. A number of factors have been attributed to the cause of the crash, including pilot fatigue (the captain was well over his duty limit due to the aircraft being delayed), the landing lights at Prestwick being out of action due to repair and the First Officer either not hearing a command from the Captain for landing lights (which may have helped judge the low cloud base) or mistakenly hitting the flaps, causing the aircraft to stall.
  • On 28 April 1958 a British European Airways Vickers Viscount crashed just outside Ayr on a repositioning flight from London after the pilot misread the altimeter by 10,000 ft. The aircraft skidded across the ground before catching fire. All 5 crew survived.
  • A British Airtours Boeing 707 crashed during crew training at Prestwick on 17 March 1977. The aircraft had been simulating an engine shutdown on take-off, causing it to tend to the left. Though the instructor took control of the aircraft, the engine simulating shutdown struck the runway and the aeroplane yawed and rolled violently to the right, causing the undercarriage to collapse and resulting in the engines being ripped off. None of the 4 crew were injured and there were no casualties on the ground.
  • Another simulated engine failure resulted in the crash of a BAe Jetstream on 6 October 1992, killing both crew members. While attempting to trace which engine had simulated failure, the co-pilot had forgotten to retract the undercarriage. While retracting the undercarriage, the aircraft stalled, rolled, and struck the ground inverted.
  • Prestwick and London Stansted Airport in Essex, are the only two airports in the UK designated for "at risk" flights. In April 2006, two aircraft were diverted to Prestwick under RAF escort in separate incidents; a Ryanair flight between Paris and Dublin, and an Aer Arann flight from Luton to Galway. In both instances, a note found by cabin crew warning of a bomb on board turned out to be hoaxes. Bomb disposal cover for Prestwick, and indeed for the whole of Scotland, is covered by an army troop from 11 EOD Regiment of the Royal Logistic Corps, based in Edinburgh.
  • During the 1989 Prestwick Air show, a Hawker Sea Fury had to be ditched in the sea as the port landing gear was stuck. The pilot bailed out to safety.

Building Activity

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