Glasgow Prestwick Airport

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Glasgow Prestwick Airport

Port-adhair Ghlaschu Prestwick
Glasgow Prestwick Airport logo.svg
Glasgow Prestwick Airport, January 2017.jpg
Airport typePublic
OwnerScottish Government
OperatorPrestwick Aviation Holdings Ltd.
ServesGlasgow & Ayrshire
LocationPrestwick, Scotland, UK
Focus city forRyanair
Elevation AMSL66 ft / 20 m
Coordinates55°30′34″N 004°35′40″W / 55.50944°N 4.59444°W / 55.50944; -4.59444Coordinates: 55°30′34″N 004°35′40″W / 55.50944°N 4.59444°W / 55.50944; -4.59444
EGPK is located in South Ayrshire
Location in South Ayrshire
EGPK is located in Scotland
EGPK (Scotland)
EGPK is located in the United Kingdom
EGPK (the United Kingdom)
Direction Length Surface
m ft
12/30 2,986 9,797 Concrete/Asphalt
03/21 1,905 6,250 Asphalt
Statistics (2018)
Passenger change 17-18Decrease2.1%
Aircraft movements24,904
Movements change 17-18Increase0.0%
Sources: UK AIP at NATS[1]
Statistics from the UK Civil Aviation Authority[2]

Glasgow Prestwick Airport (IATA: PIK, ICAO: EGPK) is an international airport serving the west of Scotland, situated one nautical mile (two kilometres) northeast of the town of Prestwick in South Ayrshire and 32 miles (51 kilometres) southwest of Glasgow.[1] It is the less busy of the two airports serving the western part of Scotland's Central Belt, after Glasgow Airport in Renfrewshire, within the Greater Glasgow conurbation. The airport serves the urban cluster surrounding Ayr, including: Kilmarnock, Irvine, Ardrossan, Troon, Saltcoats, Stevenston, Kilwinning, and Prestwick itself.

Glasgow Prestwick is Scotland's fifth-busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, 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 low-cost carriers, particularly Ryanair, which uses the airport as an operating base. In recent years, passenger traffic has declined; around 670,000 passengers passed through the airport in 2016.[2]


Passenger facilities were added in 1938. These were used until further investment made Prestwick compatible with jet transportation. The October 1946 USAAF diagram shows a 6,600-foot (2,000-metre) runway 14/32, with a 4,500 ft (1,400 m) runway 8/26 crossing just west of its midpoint. In 1958, runway 13/31 was 7,000 ft (2,100 m) long; in May 1960, the runway's extension to 9,800 ft (3,000 m) opened.[3]

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, for the main road from Monkton into Prestwick now crossed the tarmac of the runway. This was controlled by a "level crossing" system until a new perimeter road was completed.[4]

Commercial use[edit]

In 1945, regular transatlantic commercial flights began between Prestwick and New York.[5]

Military use[edit]

In the Second World War the RAF controlled trans-Atlantic flights from Prestwick.[6]

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 three 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 nautical miles (370 kilometres) 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, 20% of the UK's total military SAR call outs for 2009 and making them, for the second year in succession, the busiest Search & Rescue base in the UK.[7]

There was controversy over the airport's use in the CIA's extraordinary rendition flights, as aircraft had used the airport as a stop-over point.[8] Since November 2013, when the Scottish government took control of the facility, service contracts have been established with the USAF, USN, USMC, Defense Logistics Agency and National Guard.[9]

Elvis Presley stopover[edit]

Aerial view

Glasgow Prestwick Airport is the only place in the United Kingdom where Elvis Presley (who had distant Scottish ancestry) was known to have set foot, when the United States Air Force transport plane carrying him home to the United States stopped to refuel in 1960, en route from Germany.[10][11]

However, on 21 April 2008, during a BBC Radio 2 interview with Ken Bruce, theatre impresario and chairman of Everton FC, Bill Kenwright, said that Elvis actually spent a day in the UK being shown around London by Tommy Steele in 1958.[12]


Check-in area at Prestwick Airport

1992 marked the beginning of a renaissance for the struggling airport when purchased by "Canadian entrepreneur"[13] Matthew Hudson in a "dramatic rescue".[14] 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.[15] 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".[14]

In 1994, Irish budget airline Ryanair opened a route to the airport from Dublin, followed by a second route in 1995 to London Stansted. In 1998, a third route to Paris-Beauvais was introduced and the airport was sold by Hudson to the Scottish transport company Stagecoach Group.[16]


In 2001, the airport was purchased by Infratil,[17] 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.[18] The "pure dead brilliant" branding was removed from the main terminal building in January 2014.[19]

Since 2007, the airport has occasionally been used by the BBC TV programme Top Gear as the location for various stunts and experiments. The best-known stunt 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.[20]

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.[21]


Glasgow Prestwick hosts the Scottish International Airshow

On 8 March 2012, the airport owner Infratil announced that it planned to sell the airfield. The airport remained unsold until October 2013 when the Scottish Government announced it was in negotiations to take the airport back into public ownership.[22][23] Subsequently, the Scottish Government bought the airport on 22 November 2013 for £1 (equivalent to £1.22 in 2021), Infratil having incurred annual losses of £2,000,000. It is expected that the airport will continue to operate as normal and there will be no job losses. Then-Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told BBC Scotland that work would now begin for "turning Prestwick around and making it a viable enterprise".[24]

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.[25] In June 2014, Ryanair announced the relocation of some routes from Prestwick to Glasgow International Airport by October 2014; included among them were flights to Warsaw and Dublin.[26]

In November 2014 Donald Trump signed a partnership agreement with Prestwick making it the Scottish base for all Trump Aviation Operations, in order to service his Trump Turnberry golf resort 20 miles away.[27]

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 at HMS Gannet. The handover took place in January 2016. In March 2016, the airport revealed new branding and a new look to the inside and outside of the airport building.[28][29]

In 2015, Glasgow Prestwick Airport was shortlisted as a potential UK Spaceport,[30] as part of the British commercial spaceport competition.

In June 2019, the Scottish government announced that it was putting the airport up for sale. Bidders would be expected to commit to maintaining and developing aviation operations and employment.[31]


In February 2021, the Scottish government announced that a preferred bidder had been selected to buy the airport. The unnamed bidder was believed to be a European transport infrastructure investor.[32]

However, the Scottish government announced in December 2021 that the bid had been rejected, and that the sale would not proceed. The airport would consequently remain in public ownership, but the government stated it was committed to "returning it to the private sector at the appropriate time and opportunity."[33]

Airlines and destinations[edit]


The following airlines operate regular scheduled and charter services to and from Prestwick:[34]

Ryanair[35] Alicante, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Málaga, Tenerife–South
Seasonal: Barcelona, Faro, Murcia, Palma de Mallorca


Air France Cargo[36] Paris–Charles de Gaulle, Chicago–O'Hare



Prestwick Airport Passenger Totals. See Wikidata query.
Number of Passengers[note 1] Number of Movements[note 2] Freight
1997 567,000 63,166 33,874
1998 558,000 54,166 39,600
1999 702,000 54,093 40,845
2000 905,000 44,940 41,450
2001 1,232,000 48,144 43,104
2002 1,486,000 43,190 39,500
2003 1,854,000 57,099 39,975
2004 2,159,000 55,998 34,102
2005 2,405,000 54,996 29,199
2006 2,395,000 48,189 28,537
2007 2,421,000 47,910 31,517
2008 2,415,755 42,708 22,966
2009 1,817,727 34,230 13,385
2010 1,662,744 33,087 12,163
2011 1,297,119 28,131 11,846
2012 1,067,933 25,670 10,314
2013 1,145,836 24,305 9,526
2014 913,685 25,643 12,540
2015 610,837 22,765 11,242
2016 673,232 25,714 10,822
2017 696,309 24,897 11,393
2018 681,718 24,904 13,033
2019 640,455 24,463 13,054
2020 90,790 14,085 12,049
Source: United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority[2]


Busiest routes to and from Glasgow Prestwick (2019) [37]
Rank Airport Total
2018 / 19
1 Spain Tenerife–South 96,982 Increase 1.8%
2 Spain Málaga 79,539 Increase 2.8%
3 Spain Alicante 75,750 Increase 1.2%
4 Spain Palma de Mallorca 69,816 Increase 13.2%
5 Portugal Faro 61,474 Increase 4.0%
6 Spain Barcelona 61,216 Decrease -24.0%
7 Spain Lanzarote 36,060 Increase 4.5%
8 Spain Gran Canaria 21,349 Decrease -10.1%
9 Spain Murcia Intl 20,973 Increase 100%
10 Italy Rome–Ciampino 20,889 Decrease - 3.6%
11 Spain Ibiza 18,813 Decrease -17.7%
12 Spain Girona 18,711 Decrease -1.8%
13 Italy Pisa 16,696 Decrease -1.7%
14 Poland Rzeszów 8,697 Decrease -74.6%
15 Spain Fuerteventura 4,069 Decrease -76.0%
16 Spain Murcia San Javier 0 Decrease -100%

Ground transport[edit]

The airport station


Prestwick airport is the only airport in Scotland with its own railway station, Prestwick International Airport railway station, built by the airport in 1994.[38] The station is connected to the terminal by an enclosed walkway over the A79 road, and platforms are accessed by stairs, escalators and lifts.[39] The station building continues to be owned and operated by the Airport, and not by Network Rail or ScotRail. The track through the station itself remains the responsibility of Network Rail.

Ayr Airshow[edit]

Prestwick Airport 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.[40]

The revived Scottish Airshow was first held on 6 and 7 September 2014; an air display was held at the Low green at Ayr Seafront and a static display on 7 September at the airport.[41] The event included appearances by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, including the only two 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.[42]

Incidents and accidents[edit]

  • On 28 August 1944, a United States Army Air Forces Douglas C54A Skymaster flying from Boston via Keflavik crashed into houses on the south side of the airport while attempting to land, all 20 crew and passengers as well as five people on the ground were killed.[43]
  • 20 October 1948 a Lockheed L-049 Constellation of KLM crashed on approach to Prestwick; all 40 aboard perished.[44]
  • 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.
  • 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,[clarification needed] 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.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Number of Passengers including domestic, international and transit counterparts.
  2. ^ Number of Movements represents total aircraft takeoffs and landings during each year.


  1. ^ a b "Prestwick - EGPK". National Air Traffic Services Aeronautical Information Service. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Aircraft and passenger traffic data from UK airports". UK Civil Aviation Authority. Archived from the original on 11 February 2017. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  3. ^ ""Big Jets" at Prestwick. Runway ready". The Glasgow Herald. 24 March 1960. p. 6. Retrieved 14 November 2017 – via Google News.
  4. ^ Berry, Peter (2005). Prestwick Airport and Scottish Aviation. Stroud: Tempus. ISBN 978-0-75243-484-1.
  5. ^ "New York to Prestwick. Start of Regular Commercial Flights". The Glasgow Herald. 22 October 1945. p. 3. Retrieved 15 November 2017 – via Google News.
  6. ^ "Robert Pollock Gillespie". School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews, Scotland. Archived from the original on 9 August 2016. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  7. ^ "Helicopter rescue unit has busiest year on record". STV News. 11 March 2010. Archived from the original on 21 December 2014. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
  8. ^ Lavery, Charles (2 July 2012). "Exclusive: CIA torture plane lands at Prestwick Airport". Daily Record. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  9. ^ Carrell, Severin (7 February 2018). "Scottish government criticised over US military use of airport". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 February 2018. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  10. ^ "Elvis anniversary: Blue suede shoes and bobby socks". BBC News. 3 March 2010. Archived from the original on 14 August 2017. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  11. ^ Lawrence, Edwin (19 February 2010). "Were you there when Elvis landed in Prestwick?". Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 19 November 2010.
  12. ^ "Elvis's secret UK visit revealed". BBC News. 22 April 2004. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
  13. ^ "Bus and Train Firm Takes to the Air". The Independent. London. 2 May 1998. Archived from the original on 11 November 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2011.
  14. ^ a b "Prestwick Airport Book Set For Take Off". Ayrshire Post. 10 April 2009. Archived from the original on 4 October 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2011.
  15. ^ "Train Travel 'first' Claim by Prestwick". The Glasgow Herald. 9 April 1993. Archived from the original on 10 October 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2011.
  16. ^ McConnell, Ian (24 February 1999). "Hudson Takes to the Wing". The Glasgow Herald. Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2011.
  17. ^ "Infratil Acquires Majority Shareholding in Glasgow Prestwick International Airport". Archived from the original on 19 October 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  18. ^ Mcleod, Keith (4 March 2006). "You're Barred". Daily Record. Scotland. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012.
  19. ^ Wilson, Stuart (17 January 2014). "Prestwick Airport ditches 'Pure Dead Brilliant' slogan". Daily Record. Archived from the original on 10 April 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  20. ^ Top Gear (30 April 2010). Car vs Boeing 747 Engine. YouTube. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  21. ^ "Glasgow Prestwick Airport Draft Master Plan" (PDF). Glasgow Prestwick Airport. 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 July 2015.
  22. ^ "Scottish Government to pursue taking over Glasgow Prestwick Airport". Infratil (Press release). 9 October 2013. Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  23. ^ "Prestwick Airport to be nationalised in bid to safeguard jobs". The Herald. Glasgow. 8 October 2013. Archived from the original on 8 October 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  24. ^ "Prestwick Airport sold to Scottish government for £1". BBC News. 23 November 2013. Archived from the original on 24 November 2013. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  25. ^ "Plea to rename Prestwick Airport after poet Robert Burns". BBC News. 1 April 2014. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  26. ^ "Ryanair launches new Dublin-Glasgow International route". Ryanair (Press release). 3 July 2014. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014.
  27. ^ "Donald Trump pledges to make Prestwick Airport 'really successful'". STV. 14 November 2014. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  28. ^ Wilson, Stuart (9 March 2016). "New look for Prestwick Airport to be unveiled as Scottish Government agree rebrand". Daily Record. Glasgow. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  29. ^ "Glasgow Prestwick Airport is getting a new look". Glasgow Prestwick Airport (Press release). Archived from the original on 13 March 2016.
  30. ^ McArdle, Helen (20 May 2016). "UK spaceport competition axed in favour of licensing model". The Herald. Glasgow. Archived from the original on 14 September 2016. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  31. ^ "Publicly-owned Prestwick Airport up for sale". BBC News. 13 June 2019. Archived from the original on 14 June 2019. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  32. ^ "Preferred bidder chosen for Prestwick Airport". BBC News. 23 February 2021.
  33. ^ "Scottish ministers 'decide against' Prestwick airport sale". BBC News. 21 December 2021.
  34. ^ "Route Map". Glasgow Prestwick. Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  35. ^ "Ryanair route map | Our European destinations".
  36. ^ - Network retrieved 6 November 2021
  37. ^ "Terminal Passengers 2009 - 2019 (in thousands)" (PDF). CAA.
  38. ^ "Cheap train connections to and from Glasgow Prestwick Airport". Glasgow Prestwick. Archived from the original on 2 March 2012.
  39. ^ "Online video detailing access to the rail services from the airport". Scotland on TV. Archived from the original on 24 September 2008.
  40. ^ "Thousands welcome return of Scottish Airshow to Ayrshire". BBC News. 7 September 2014. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  41. ^ "Scottish Airshow to return in September after 22-year absence". STV News. 21 May 2014. Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  42. ^ "Home". Scottish Airshow. Archived from the original on 8 September 2015. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  43. ^ "Crash of a Douglas C-54A-1-DC Skymaster in Prestwick: 25 killed | Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives". Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. Retrieved 15 September 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  44. ^ "ASN Aircraft accident Lockheed L-049-46-25 Constellation PH-TEN Glasgow-Prestwick Airport (PIK)".
  45. ^ Manning, Sanchez (16 June 2013). "Five seek asylum after threat diverts flight to UK". The Independent. London. Retrieved 11 September 2019.

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

Further reading[edit]

  • Ewart, Jim (1985). Prestwick Airport Golden Jubilee 1935–1985. Paisley: Scottish Airports.
  • Berry, Peter (2005). Prestwick Airport and Scottish Aviation. Stroud: Tempus. ISBN 978-0-75243-484-1.

External links[edit]

Media related to Glasgow Prestwick Airport at Wikimedia Commons