Harman Patil (Editor)

Glasgow Prestwick Airport

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Airport type


20 m

Elevation AMSL
65 ft / 20 m


+44 871 223 0700

Glasgow Prestwick Airport

Prestwick Aviation Holdings Ltd

Glasgow, Prestwick, Strathclyde, Scotland

Prestwick, South Ayrshire

Aviation House, Prestwick KA9 2PL, UK


Plane spotting at glasgow prestwick airport 29 05 15

Glasgow Prestwick Airport is an international airport serving the Greater Glasgow urban area, situated 1 nautical mile (1.9 km; 1.2 mi) northeast of the town of Prestwick in South Ayrshire and 32 mi (51 km) from the city centre of Glasgow. It is the second busiest of the two airports serving Glasgow, with the busiest being Glasgow Airport which is situated within the Greater Glasgow conurbation itself (located in the town of Paisley in Renfrewshire). It is set to become the European hub for commercial space flights, and is Scotland's main candidate for development into the first UK Spaceport.


Glasgow Prestwick is Scotland's fifth busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, after Edinburgh Airport, Glasgow Airport, Aberdeen Airport, and Inverness Airport, although it is the largest in terms of land area. Passenger traffic peaked at 2.4 million in 2007 following a decade of rapid growth, driven in part by the boom in no-frills airlines, particularly Ryanair which uses the airport as an operating base. In recent years, passenger traffic has declined; around 600,000 passengers passed through the airport in 2015.


The airport began life around 1934 – primarily as a training airfield – with a hangar, offices and control tower were constructed by the end of 1935. The airport's original owner was David Fowler McIntyre, also the owner of Scottish Aviation with backing from the then Duke of Hamilton. MacIntyre and Hamilton were the first aviators to fly over Mount Everest in 1933.

In 1938 passenger facilities were added. These were used until further investment made Prestwick compatible with jet transportation. The October 1946 USAAF diagram shows 6,600 ft (2,012 m) runway 14/32 with 4,500 ft (1,372 m) runway 8/26 crossing just west of its midpoint. 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 was controlled by a "level crossing" system until the new perimeter road was completed. In November 2013, the main runway was re-designated from 13/31 to 12/30 due to the drifting of the magnetic north pole having moved so much that it required the airport's runway to be re-numbered.

Military use

In the Second World War the RAF controlled trans-Atlantic flights from Prestwick

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.

Proposed plans had been drawn up prewar for the postwar years which would have been classed as extremely ambitious, especially in the austere postwar 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, Glasgow Prestwick Airport does have its own railway station, something that neither Glasgow International nor Edinburgh Airports currently have.

Until February 2016 part of the Prestwick site was occupied by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm with RNAS Prestwick, officially known by the Royal Navy as HMS Gannet, where a detachment of 3 Sea Kings provided 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 provided a medical evacuation service to the Scottish island communities. Personnel at the base numbered 15 officers, 11 ratings, 28 civil servants and 50 civilian staff. The crews regularly featured 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. There was some controversy over the airport's use in the CIA's extraordinary rendition flights, as aircraft had used the airport as a stop-over point.

Industrial use

Scottish Aviation built a factory using the original terminal building and hangars at Prestwick, which from 1974 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. A total of 1,243 complete aircraft were built at Prestwick by this time.

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 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 geographical anomaly, Glasgow Prestwick has the reputation of being "Britain's only fog-free airport". For this reason it is often used as a diversionary airport when weather conditions close aviation hubs elsewhere in the United Kingdom – heavy snowfall in the recent severe winters of 2009 and 2010–2011 resulted in large numbers of intercontinental flights bound for London Heathrow and elsewhere to be diverted to Prestwick. This is perhaps one reason it managed to avoid total closure when it appeared that BAA were 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. Today, Prestwick still sees regular circuit training taking place, both military & commercial. The circuit aircraft usually are Boeing 757, Boeing 737 and the A320 Family. Military aircraft include the KC-10 Extender on fuel stops and the KDC10. Prestwick was also the first airport in Scotland to have the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner land.

Elvis Presley

Glasgow Prestwick Airport is considered to be the only place in the United Kingdom where Elvis Presley ever set foot, when the United States Army transport plane carrying him home stopped to refuel in 1960, 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.


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 initiated the construction of the airport's railway station on the existing Ayrshire Coast Line (Glasgow–Ayr), which runs past the airfield, making it the first Scottish airport with 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 a peak in passenger numbers. In 1998, Matthew Hudson sold Prestwick Airport to the Scottish transport company Stagecoach Group which then sold it to Infratil in 2001. The loss-making airport had been for sale since March 2012 and in October 2013 Infratil announced that the Scottish Government's intention to renationalise 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 RCAF 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 5 September 2009 the A380 approached and took off from the airport

The airport was owned by Infratil, a New Zealand company and majority owner of Wellington International Airport Infratil also owned Manston Airport until November 2013. Manston was sold to a shell company owned by Ann Gloag, a co-founder of Stagecoach, Prestwick's previous owner. In April 2005, Infratil completed a major refurbishment of the terminal building, and rebranded the airport using the phrase "pure dead brilliant", taken straight from the Glasgow patter. Some of the 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, it was removed a matter of weeks after installation, after the South Ayrshire Licensing Board said the logo trivialised excessive drinking. The "pure dead brilliant" branding was removed from the main terminal building in January 2014.

On 6 July 2005, Prestwick Airport became the entry point for the participants in the 31st G8 summit held in Gleneagles. Strathclyde Police implemented an unprecedented level of security around the airport for the duration of the summit.

Since 2007 the airport has occasionally been used by BBC motoring TV show Top Gear as the location for various stunts and experiments. The best known was a scene similar to one featured in the film 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 whether the thrust from the aircraft's four jet engines really could lift a car off the ground.

The car park and A79 outside the terminal building have been reconstructed to comply with governmental movement and access restrictions mandated in the aftermath of the Glasgow International Airport terrorist attack. According to a 2008 Master Plan the departure lounge is at capacity and congested during peak operations. The plan proposes "a central pier that provides adequate circulation and waiting space prior to boarding the aircraft" to cope with a continuing increase in passenger departures. It also proposed raising the number of aircraft stands from 6 to 12.

An Airbus A380 made an approach and go round at Prestwick Airport for the first time on 5 September 2009.

Present day

On 8 March 2012 the airport owner Infratil announced that they had placed the airfield up for sale. The airport remained unsold until October 2013 when the Scottish Government announced it was in negotiations to take the airport back into public ownership. Subsequently, the Scottish Government took ownership on Friday 22 November for £1, Infratil having incurred annual losses of £2m. It is expected the airport will continue to operate as normal and there will be no job losses. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told BBC Scotland that work would now begin for "turning Prestwick around and making it a viable enterprise".

On 1 April 2014, the public petition committee at Holyrood heard that The Robert Burns World Federation wished to rename the airport to Robert Burns International Airport. In June 2014, Ryanair announced the relocation of some routes from Prestwick to Glasgow Airport by October 2014; among them are the flights to Warsaw and Dublin.

As part of the privatisation of the UK's search and rescue service, Bristow Helicopters based two Sikorsky S-92 helicopters in a new hangar, replacing HMS Gannet. The handover took place in January 2016. In March 2016 the airport revealed a new look which is due to be rolled out very soon with new branding and a new look to the inside and outside of the airport building. The new look should be fully in place within the next 2 to 3 years.

Glasgow Prestwick Airport is one of a number of locations that could be the first Spaceport in the UK.

Due to the redevelopment of his nearby golf course, Donald Trump has announced that a future redevelopment of the airport will occur, hinting his planned take over. It is uncertain if these plans will come around due to his presidency in 2017. However The Trump Organisation have huge investment in the area.


The airport is operational 24 hours a day. It is able to handle large aircraft up to and including the Boeing 747-400 and Antonov An-225. The majority of freight services use widebody aircraft with Cargolux mainly now using their new Boeing 747-8F aircraft and Air France operating the Boeing 777F, Volga-Dnepr are also occasional users of Prestwick with Antonov An-124 aircraft. The apron features seven nose-in PAPA/AGNIS (1A,1,2,3,4,7,8) plus 5 stands assisted by Ground Operations (5,6,9,10,11).


The following airlines operate regular scheduled and charter services to and from Prestwick:


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 ScotRail.

All services from the station are operated by ScotRail. The most frequent services are on the electrified route between Glasgow Central and Ayr on the Ayrshire Coast Line. Trains run every 15 minutes during day-time hours Monday to Saturday (and half-hourly in the evenings and on Sundays). There are also less frequent services to Stranraer,and Kilmarnock. All passengers travelling to/from the airport will receive 50% discount from/to anywhere in Scotland on the standard fare. Passengers joining the train at Prestwick Airport require to show their official flight confirmation and photo id to the train's ticket examiner when buying their ticket, as there is no ticketing office at Prestwick Airport. New routes are also marked with a promotional period (normally 6 months after launch) during which time rail travel is free to and from the airport.


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.

Prestwick Airshow

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 Scottish air show attracted up to 100,000 spectators to Prestwick in its heyday in the 1980s. 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. However, a new Prestwick World Festival of Flight has been organised, with the first annual event taking place between 30 August and 8 September 2013. It has been funded by the South Ayrshire Council, Prestwick Airport itself, and a number of local aerospace companies, including BAE Systems and UTC. The Prestwick World Festival of Flight will include an "air pageant" and a static aviation display.

The Scottish Airshow was first held on 6 and 7 September, with an air display being held at the Low green at Ayr Seafront and a static display on the 7th at the airport. The event included appearances by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, including the only 2 flying Avro Lancaster bombers, and the last airworthy Avro Vulcan bomber, famous for being part of the UK's Nuclear "V Force" bomber fleet. The second Scottish Airshow was held on 5 and 6 September 2015 with the last Scottish appearance of the Avro Vulcan XH558 and a display by the Red Arrows.

Incidents and accidents

  • The first serious air accident at Prestwick was on 28 August 1944, a Douglas DC-4, on a transatlantic flight overshot the runway and crashed into houses at Hillside Avenue, Glenburn. 26 people were killed, 21 passengers and crew and 5 civilians on the ground. The crash destroyed four houses in Hillside Avenue and damaged several others.
  • On 20 October 1948 a Lockheed Constellation of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines crashed in a field 5 miles (8 km) 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 25 December 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 on board. The aircraft had been en route from London to New York City, when, on approach to Prestwick, it entered a steep descent before levelling out too late and too severely, hitting the ground short of the runway. The crash has been attributed to a number of factors, 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 might have helped judge the low cloud base) or mistakenly hitting the flaps, causing the aircraft to stall.
  • The Stratocruiser had been carrying uncut diamonds in registered mail, then valued at over £1 million, though it would be several days after the accident that investigators had any hint of the cargo being carried. An extensive search was carried out in the area surrounding the crash for several weeks, resulting in over 90% of the diamonds being recovered. The KLM Constellation that crashed near Prestwick six years earlier had also been carrying diamonds, then valued at over £5,000.
  • 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 feet (3,000 m). 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.
  • 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 parachuted to safety.
  • 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 each instance, a note found by cabin crew warning of a bomb on board turned out to be a hoax. Bomb disposal cover for Prestwick, and indeed for the whole of Scotland, is provided by an army troop from 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment RLC of the Royal Logistic Corps, based in Edinburgh.
  • On 15 June 2013, an EgyptAir flight from Cairo bound for JFK Airport was diverted to Prestwick Airport under RAF escort due to a terror threat. The incident was similar to those mentioned above, where a note was found on board threatening to 'set the plane on fire'. Roads surrounding the airport were closed as police dealt with the incident.
  • References

    Glasgow Prestwick Airport Wikipedia

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