Prestwick Airport has hired ninety seasonal workers. The new employees will help resident carrier, Ryanair, handle its “busy summer schedule”, which includes a new flight from the Scottish airport to the Mediterranean island of Malta. The twice-weekly route, which was launched on April 14, joins Alicante in Spain and Faro in Portugal as the cornerstone of Ryanair’s ‘sun and sea’ campaign at Prestwick.
Airport chief, Iain Cochrane, said that Prestwick was “gearing up” for the warmer months. “If we do well over the summer, it will demonstrate that Prestwick can be successful in (the sun and sea) sector." Mr. Cochrane’s comments allude to a gradual shift away from the domestic routes that had once been Prestwick’s speciality, such as Dublin and Edinburgh, towards resorts in Spain, France, and Portugal.
However, local newspaper, Herald Scotland, poured cold water on the airport’s plans for the summer, by suggesting that Prestwick’s slogan, 'Pure Dead Brilliant', would be more befitting of the airport if the final adjective was removed. A little cynical, perhaps, but Prestwick is nonetheless entering the 2011 summer season with 29 fewer Ryanair flights than in the same period last year.
Passenger numbers, arguably a measure of an airport’s fortunes, are falling, from 2.4m in 2007, to 1.5m in 2010. Prestwick has not turned a profit in two years, and that situation is unlikely to change, according to Louise Congdon, partner at York Aviation, who notes that airports struggle to make money unless they can anticipate annual passenger numbers in excess of 2m people.
Ryanair is currently the linchpin in Prestwick’s business, providing 24 of the hub’s 28 routes. The other four destinations are operated by Polish carrier, WizzAir, Newmarket Holidays, and Atlantic Holidays. The airline offers some financial security, but Prestwick’s future is nonetheless controlled by an airline that is prone to sudden, sweeping cancellations. The Irish carrier has already demonstrated this trait at Prestwick Airport, forcing 40 redundancies, and seeing off 40,039 passengers between January 2010 and the same month this year.
Whether the Herald’s doomsaying is justified will soon become clear. However, few would deny that Prestwick’s reliance on Ryanair is unhealthy. Finding another airline to compete with the carrier is imperative if bosses want to avoid a scenario in which Scotland's fourth airport only has a handful of routes on its books.