Ryanair blamed for January exodus

The latest figures released by New Zealand-based firm, Infratil, have revealed that Glasgow Prestwick Airport lost 40,039 travellers between January 2010 and the same month this year. The slump, equal to a 40% reduction in passenger numbers, is the result of capacity cuts by budget airline, Ryanair.

Whilst it would have been easy for Infratil to heap blame on Michael O’Leary’s airline, the Kiwi firm has singled out the Air Passenger Duty (APD) as the reason for Prestwick’s sour fortunes. Last year, O’Leary referred to APD as “tourism suicide” and “insanely stupid”, before making a decision to base fewer planes in the UK. The Irishman’s pledge ultimately resulted in the loss of domestic routes between Prestwick and airports in London and Belfast.

Comparisons will inevitably be made between the figures for January 2011, and those for October 2010, when the hub recorded a 17% boom in the number of people choosing to fly from Prestwick. The stark contrast in performance serves to emphasise just how much the Scottish hub relies on Ryanair to bring passengers and business into Ayrshire, a dependence that has previously been criticised by local MP, Brian Donohoe.

The termination of Ryanair flights from Prestwick has also forced 40 redundancies, around 10% of the hub’s workforce. Iain Cochrane, chief executive at the airport, said that the aviation industry was struggling with a “very difficult market” at present. However, Mr. Cochrane was hopeful that a series of new flights, due to debut this summer, would dispel the black clouds hovering over Prestwick. The new destinations include Spain, Portugal, the island of Majorca, and the Canary Islands.

Infratil, which also owns Kent Manston airport in the UK, and a 66% share in Wellington Airport in New Zealand, said that freight numbers were “performing strongly” at Prestwick. The Scottish airport also enjoyed a minor passenger boost in December, as heavy snowfall forced Edinburgh and Glasgow-bound aircraft to divert to Prestwick.

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