Government looks at options
Bidder pulls out of talks to acquire Prestwick
Prestwick: future uncertain
A preferred bidder for Prestwick Airport has pulled out, leaving questions about the future of the Ayrshire base.
The loss-making airport was taken into public ownership in 2013 to avoid closure.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has told MSPs that the preferred bidder – which was never named – “does not wish to complete the purchase”.
He indicated in a letter to Holyrood that the reason was linked to Covid-19’s impact on the aviation sector.
Daily Business reported last month that management remained confident of concluding talks with the potential buyer while admitting that an extension had been requested.
The airport reported a £3 million underlying operating profit following a £1 million loss in the previous year, while revenue in the year to the end of March increased by 46% year-on-year to £36m against £24.6m.
But the improvement came ahead of the lockdown which brought the aviation industry to a near-standstill.
Mr Matheson said today that Scottish ministers would “reflect upon future options for the business”.
Ministers have regarded Prestwick Airport – where 300 people are employed directly with a further 1,400 jobs supported, as a strategic economic asset – particularly for Ayrshire.
The Scottish government announced in June last year its plan to sell the airport.
At the start of last year, the debt owed by Prestwick Airport to the Scottish government had risen to £38.4m.
The debt reflected recent years of losses that built up after the Ayrshire airport was saved from closure by the government takeover.
Scottish Conservative Transport Spokesman Graham Simpson said: “It is disappointing that the preferred bidder for Prestwick Airport has pulled out but it’s not surprising.
“Scotland’s airports are in crisis as result of the pandemic.
“The SNP Government urgently needs to come up with a rescue plan for the entire aviation sector.
“They should start by allowing testing at airports in order to move towards a reduced quarantine period for passengers, which would improve the data we have, and improve confidence among passengers.
“We must also urgently hear from the SNP Transport Secretary how he intends to protect Prestwick
“Thousands of jobs are dependent on all our airports succeeding and we need to see action now from the SNP.”
The Conservative government in Westminster has rejected calls for testing at airports.
Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “This latest setback comes at crunch time for Scotland’s aviation sector. Thousands of workers in the sector – including at Prestwick – need assurance that the Scottish Government will take action to secure their futures with sector specific support and the urgent introduction of a testing regime at airports.
“When the sale of Prestwick was announced, I argued that it should not go ahead unless the buyer agrees to paying back the tens of millions of pounds loaned to the airport from the public purse.
“We must not allow a cut-price sale for the sake of the SNP Government washing its hands of the airport. Instead, the Government should set out a clear plan for the running of the airport under public ownership if the sale of the airport at a fair price can’t be secured.”