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INSIDE TRACK: A truly turbulent tale of two airports

ANYONE interested in the future of Scotland's west-coast airports can apparently look forward to two important publications this summer.

Nicola Sturgeon, in her capacity as Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, told MSPs last week that she expected a strategic vision document outlining the long-term plans for Government-owned Prestwick to be completed "within the next couple of months".

The paper will be based on the recent findings of independent financial consultant Romain Py.

Mr Py's £100,000 taxpayer-funded report will not be published on grounds that it contains commercially sensitive material.

Ms Sturgeon stood by the decision last week, emphasising that Prestwick could not be expected to do something that its privately owned competitors would not, particularly as it remains the Scottish Government's long-term ambition to sell it back to the private sector.

The "strategic vision" document is, therefore, a compromise between the full transparency and a wish to protect the best interests of the Ayrshire hub.

It remains to be seen whether it will deliver the clarity parliament, business leaders and competitors are calling for.

Mr Py had, she said, concluded that the loss-making airport could eventually be returned to profitability.

However, he had also noted that it was a "non-typical" airport, inasmuch as its success was "not predicated on passenger traffic".

Passenger numbers fell from 2.4 million in 2007 to 1.1m by 2013 and, with only one carrier, Ryanair, it is inherently vulnerable.

Freight has also declined from 65,000 tonnes in 2002 to 40,000 tonnes in 2012. According to Mr Py, Prestwick should focus on it strengths as a maintenance hub, and also look to upgrade the passenger experience.

Besides the £2.4m earmarked to spruce up services such as duty free this year, part of a £10m funding package, he advised overhauling Prestwick's privately-owned railway station and "Skywalk" bridge at a cost of around £4.75m, paid for through increased access charges to ScotRail.

Such a development would probably go down like a lead balloon with bosses of Glasgow Airport, also eagerly awaiting the results of a feasibility study into a tram-train link.

The Herald revealed questions about transport bosses' commitment to the project earlier this week, after documents revealed there had been only two meetings on the subject in the last three and a half months.

Nonetheless, Transport Scotland said it expects to publish its findings by the end of August.

Cynics may equate "feasibility study" with "long grass".

But there has been genuine optimism that the work was a step towards healing the rift caused by the Scottish Government's decision to axe the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (Garl) in 2009.

A failure to deliver or, worse still, a conclusion that the scheme is "not feasible" would be perceived as a major betrayal to the city.

In this tale of two airports, August could be the best of times. Or the worst.

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