Tough year

Military operations help support Prestwick Airport

Cargo is an important part of Prestwick’s business

Prestwick Airport’s holding company has reported a fourth consecutive year of operating profits as military and cargo operations continue to offset the low level of passenger activity.

TS Prestwick Holdco posted an underlying profit of £2.08 million for the year to the end of March, up from £1.87m in the previous year. However, pre-tax profit fell to £836,000 from £1.2m in a tighter market for cargo.

The company announced a five-year extension to its agreement with Ryanair, the only passenger service operating at the Ayrshire facility.

Prestwick currently handles 459,000 passengers compared with 118,000 at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, but well down on the seven figure volumes in earlier years.

In a statement with the latest figures, the airport’s holding company said cargo volumes dropped back in 2022/23 from the peak in 2021/22 which benefited from the support the airport gave during the pandemic with NHS charters supplying vaccines, test kits and medical equipment and the grounding of passenger aircraft globally increasing demand for freighter capacity.

Prestwick Airport
Prestwick Airport has signed a new deal with Ryanair

It said the last 12 months have been a challenging year for cargo growth with global belly hold cargo capacity returning while the ban of the Russian registered fleet impacted movement of heavy equipment.

The 2023/24 global market for general freight remains sluggish with a downturn in production in Asia and slowdown in economic growth in the USA impacting demand.

However, it is encouraged by the growth in Prestwick Aerospace Aviation Cluster companies, and the board is focused on building the cargo business over the next few years, especially in niche product lines, from aircraft engines and oil & gas equipment to horses and refrigerated products cargo. It is investing in equipment and new facilities to meet demand.

CEO Ian Forgie said it had been “another year of good performance” and the airport remains an important base for Ryanair with an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul facility on site employing over 500 people. 

“The board is focused on growing our cargo business and we will continue to invest in equipment and expand our facilities to meet demand, building on Prestwick’s reputation for fast, efficient and well connected 24/7 cargo services.,” he said.

“Glasgow Prestwick continues to provide excellent service to military customers with most nations operating aircraft using our facilities, including the Royal Canadian Airforce which recently celebrated its 80th anniversary of its connection with Prestwick.”

Ian Forgie: good performance

Mr Forgie said the Airport is on its way to achieving its target of 50% percent carbon reduction by 2030,  and is also working on supporting the change to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to establish it as a key supply point for SAF in Scotland.

Chairman Forsyth Black said the board has charted a path towards a new strategy, “built around strong commercial principles and financial discipline”.

He added: “Our shareholder, the Scottish Government, has a long-term stated aim of returning Glasgow Prestwick Airport to private ownership and the board is of the firm belief that in order to so at the greatest benefit to the Scottish taxpayer, it ensures that the business is set up the best it can be for a bright future.

“I am pleased to report there are many other strands to our growth plans that are taking shape behind the scenes, and I look forward to reporting future growth and progress in years to come”. 

It owes the government more than £52 million in loans and interest, though it has received no taxpayer support since 2019.

In January Stephen Boyle, the auditor-general, told a Holyrood committee the government valued the airport at £11.6 million.

“On an annual basis many millions of pounds of public expenditure are being used to support the airport, to sustain jobs and services within the airport. That will remain the case for as long as it remains in public sector hands,” he said. The trade minister at the time Ivan McKee questioned the statement.

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