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Glasgow Prestwick International Airport, Glasgow, Scotland

June 17th, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

Glasgow Prestwick International Airport (IATA: PIK, ICAO: EGPK) is situated north of the town of Prestwick in South Ayrshire, Scotland. Although officially called Glasgow Prestwick Airport because the city of Glasgow is 46 km (29 miles) north-east of the airport, most people, particularly locals, refer to it under its original name of Prestwick Airport. The last ten years has seen unprecedented growth in passenger traffic using the airport driven, in the main, by the boom in "no-frills" airlines.

In physical terms, Prestwick is Scotland's largest commercial airfield, although in passenger traffic terms it sits in fourth place after Glasgow's main airport, Glasgow International, Edinburgh Airport, and Aberdeen Airport all of which are operated by BAA.

The airport began life around 1934 — primarily as a training airfield — with a hangar, offices and control tower being in place by the end of 1935. The airport's original owner was David Fowler McIntyre, who was also the owner of Scottish Aviation with backing from the then Duke of Hamilton. MacIntyre and Hamilton had previously been the first aviators to fly atop Mount Everest in 1933. With the onset of World War II, the airport developed rapidly in order to handle the large volume of American aircraft ferry traffic.

In 1938 passenger facilities were added, which were used continuously until the implementation of a massive investment programme to make Prestwick compatible with the new jet transports which were becoming available. A runway extension, parallel taxiway, link road, and an all-new terminal building were opened by the Queen Mother in 1964. The new construction had caused considerable disruption to road users as the main road into Ayr actually crossed the tarmac of the existing runway. This had to be strictly controlled by a "level crossing" type system until the new perimeter road was completed.

The US Air Force had opened a base in 1952 on the site of the original airport using former RAF facilities (the USAF MATS 1631st Air Base Squadron), and in [1953 on the Monkton side of the airport, both used by the USAF[Military Air Transportation Service (MATS). This base closed in 1966, part of the site is occupied by RNAS Prestwick, more popularly known as HMS Gannet, from whence a detachment of 771 Naval Air Squadron Sea Kings provide a Search and Rescue service.

There had been proposed plans drawn up pre-war for the post war years which would have been classed as extremely ambitious, especially in the austere post-war years. Among the various proposals was a 4 mile long main runway, an integral freight yard and railway station, and a semi enclosed mooring for flying boats and other amphibious aircraft. However, the runway was never lengthened to that degree, and the decline in seaplane and flying boat operations also meant that the latter proposal was never enacted. It is telling however, that many years since those proposals were made, that Prestwick Airport does have its own railway station, something that even Glasgow Airport does not have.

Scottish Aviation built a factory using the original terminal building and hangars at Prestwick, which produced such aircraft as the Prestwick Pioneers, and later the Jetstream and Bulldog. One part of the factory, the large white art-deco building which remains to this day, had in fact been the Palace of Engineering that had been built as part of the Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow in 1938. When Scottish Aviation merged with British Aerospace as a result of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act, BAe maintained aircraft production at the site until 1998, primarily updates of the Jetstream line. Today BAE Systems retains a small facility at Prestwick for its Regional Aircraft division, with the adjoining main manufacturing site, producing components for Airbus and Boeing aircraft, having been sold to Spirit AeroSystems in January 2006.

In the beginning, Prestwick was the only Scottish airport allowed to operate a transatlantic link, largely due to the very benign weather conditions on the Ayrshire coast. Indeed, with a much lower incidence of fog than any other airport in Great Britain due to a geological anomaly, Prestwick is the only guaranteed fog-free airport in the UK. This is perhaps one reason it managed to avoid total closure when it appeared that BAA seemed to be running down operations. It was also partly a political decision to silence those that questioned why Glasgow needed two airports when Glasgow Corporation had already invested money building Glasgow Airport.

Although British Airways had ceased regular passenger operations in the late 1970s which some people saw as the beginning of the end for the airport, BA continued to intermittently use Prestwick as a site for pilot training, especially for training Concorde pilots. Concorde became a semi-regular visitor to the airport, and indeed BA and a number of other major airlines still use Prestwick for pilot training.

Prestwick Airport is also famous because it is the only piece of United Kingdom territory that Elvis Presley set foot on, when his US Army transport plane stopped to refuel in 1960, whilst en route from Germany.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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