How Things Changed In 1991 the newly-privatised British Airports Authority, BAA plc consolidated their portfolio of UK airports. Part of this was to move all transatlantic traffic departing from Scotland to Glasgow 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.
1994 marked the beginning of a renaissance for the struggling airport. It took the shrewd move of building its own railway station on the existing Glasgow-Ayr line, which runs straight past the airfield. Then, Irish budget line 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 has seen Prestwick grow even larger than it had ever been in traffic terms under state ownership. Ryanair now serves 20 destinations from Prestwick – now one of their maintenance hubs – and other budget airlines have also moved into the airport.
Today, as well as the thriving no-frills segment, Prestwick has continued its traditional strategic role as a refuelling point for military aircraft – the US Air Force, RAF and the Canadian Armed Forces 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.
The airport is privately owned by Infratil, a New Zealand investment company which also owns Wellington International Airport. In April 2005, Infratil completed a major £3m refurbishment of the terminal building, and also controversially rebranded the airport using the phrase "Pure Dead Brilliant", taken straight from the Glasgow Patter. Some of this 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, the logo was removed on 3 March 2006, only several weeks after its introduction, after the intervention of the South Ayrshire Licensing Board who said the logo trivialised excessive drinking.
On 6 July 2005, Prestwick Airport became the entry point into Scotland for the world's most powerful leaders on the eve of the G8 Summit which was being held in Gleneagles. Strathclyde Police implemented an unprecedented level of security around the airport for the duration of the summit. Officers from police forces throughout the UK were drafted in to assist in the operation, including armed officers. In preparation for the landing of Air Force One, carrying US president George W. Bush, the A77, which runs past the end of the main runway, was controversially closed while the aircraft was on final approach.
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