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INSIDE TRACK: Airport's name has become a burning issue

NEW York has JFK and Liverpool has John Lennon and, if campaigners have their way, Scotland's Government-owned airport at Prestwick could be renamed in honour of Robert Burns.

The idea was rejected in 2008 by New Zealand owners Infratil who believed rebranding the Ayrshire airport after the national Bard would confuse foreign visitors who did not associate him with the area.

The campaign had been backed by the Scottish Government and MSPs ahead of the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth in 2009.

But chief executive Mark Rodwell dismayed Burns fans by saying: "We appreciate Robert Burns has a hugely important Ayrshire and Scottish identity and has followers around the world.

"However, like most airports, we rely on the location name to attract the vast majority of our customers. Glasgow Prestwick is the right name for this airport given that it is in Prestwick and its closest major city is Glasgow. Visitors may not instantly connect with or geographically place a Robert Burns brand."

Six years on, Infratil has sold off the struggling airport for £1 to ministers and attempts to revitalise its fortunes have seen it shorn of the embarrassing "pure dead brilliant" slogan. Could a name change be next?

The latest bid to rebrand the airport as Robert Burns International came from the Robert Burns World Federation, which submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday. Alison Tait, of the Federation, told MSPs Burns' legacy was " of incalculable value to Scotland and the country's image abroad".

The suggestion was first mooted in the 1990s by businessman and Burns fanatic Sirdar Iqbal Singh, who had previously renamed a 100-acre island in the Outer Hebrides after the Bard. In 2011, Ayrshire MSPs wrote to Infratil again urging it to rename the airport after Burns, while a Facebook campaign backing the rebrand has attracted more than 7200 signatures.

In 2008, Alex Neil, now Health Secretary, recalled flying into John Wayne airport in California, adding: "I don't see why we shouldn't exploit the Burns brand here in Scotland."

Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister, says she is "not unmoved" by calls to rename Prestwick, though she stressed it was important decisions were not taken on the basis of sentiment. Airport name changes elsewhere have occasionally been divisive. In 2006, South Africa's Johannesburg International was renamed OR Tambo in honour of apartheid-era ANC leader Oliver Tambo, alientating the Afrikaans-speaking community.

In Bolivia, a general strike was sparked last year over attempts to rename Ororu Airport after left-wing president Evo Morales, outraging the middle classes. It hardly seems like a controversial decision for a Scottish Government-owned airport to be rebranded in honour of a much-loved Scot.

If anything is controversial, I would suggest it is the proposed "international" tag. Unless Prestwick starts offering flights further afield than Europe it seems like questionable advertising for those easy-to-confuse foreign visitors.

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