Prestwick Airport

(Glasgow Prestwick International Airport)

Prestwick Airport
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Prestwick Airport

Located just NE of Prestwick in South Ayrshire and 28 miles (45 km) southwest of Glasgow, Prestwick Airport is a major international freight hub. It has two runways, one of which at 2987m (9801 feet), is the second-longest in Scotland. The airport handles more than 600,000 passengers and 58,000 tonnes of cargo per year. It has an excellent weather record, one of the best in Europe, often remaining open when other Scottish airports are closed.

Aircraft were flown here from c.1913, but Prestwick developed as a training airfield after the First World War. During World War II, Prestwick was used to receive military aircraft delivered from the USA, with up to 300 new aeroplanes arriving every day. Thereafter while retaining a military role, a civilian airport grew alongside commercial air travel, becoming the trans-atlantic gateway to Scotland. Major expansion took place in the early 1960s, with a new terminal building opened in 1964 by HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900 - 2002). This building remains in use, with a major refurbishment in 2005. From the 1980s many scheduled passenger services transferred to Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, since being sold by the denationalised British Airports Authority in 1992 and without the air traffic congestion, noise and night-curfew restrictions of the city airports, Prestwick has been developed as a freight, holiday charter and budget flight centre. In 1998, the airport was acquired by Stagecoach Holdings Plc, the international bus and transportation group founded by the brother-sister partnership of Brian Souter and Ann Gloag. It was subsequently purchased by a New Zealand company, Infratil, but having made substantial losses and close to closure it was bought by the Scottish Government in 2013 for the sum of £1.

Aircraft manufacture was important to the early development of the site, with Scottish Aviation acquiring land adjacent to Orangefield House in 1935. That late-17th century classical mansion later became the terminal building for the airport with a control tower built incongruously on the roof. The house was demolished in 1966 to make was for the expansion.

The Art Deco Scottish Aviation factory was constructed as the Palace of Engineering for the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, but was dismantled and reassembled here. It went on to produce notable aircraft such as the Prestwick Pioneer and Twin Pioneer and its successor, British Aerospace, continued to built aircraft here until 1998. Components are still manufactured in Prestwick by the Kansas-based Spirit AeroSystems Inc., while Prestwick International Aerospace Park (opened in 1999) has consolidated Prestwick's position as a major aircraft-servicing and engineering base.

Prestwick Airport has the International Air Transport Association (IATA) location code "PIK". It is also the home of the Scottish Air Traffic Control Centre and is a centre of military air services. The US Air Force operated a Military Air Transport Service hub here between 1953 and 1966. It was in this latter context that the airport was briefly visited by Elvis Presley in 1960, at the end of his army service, notable because this was the only occasion the star visited Britain.

This is the only one of Scotland's airports with a dedicated and directly-connected railway station, opened in 1994.

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