RYANAIR boss Michael O'Leary has reaffirmed the airline's commitment to Prestwick Airport, but he believes dropping Air Passenger Duty is essential to the development of the airport and indeed Scottish tourism as a whole.

The outspoken chief executive was speaking after a Glasgow Chamber of Commerce event during which he said he wants to "bury" his competition.

As Ryanair prepares to open its base at Glasgow Airport, where it has nine routes planned, O'Leary said: "We're going to have lower fares this winter. We're going to force down easyJet and BA's fares to London; Aer Lingus will have to slash its fares to Dublin just to compete with us on price."

The airline is "very excited" about Scottish tourism's potential, he also pointed out. "I think critical to that will be scrapping APD ... but even without it I think Glasgow is certainly going to boom and that's kind of the 'glow' from the Commonwealth Games."

The chief executive also said he hopes Ryanair's routes at Glasgow will grow to 15 or 20 in the next 12 months, with additional potential for expansion at Edinburgh and Prestwick, as the airline aims to increase visitors' trips to Scotland.

He stressed that Ryanair was dedicated to maintaining a presence at the Ayrshire airport, with two large maintenance facilities there, for example.

"We've invested heavily in the airport, so regardless of what happens with the routes and the traffic, as long as the Scottish Government keeps the airport open we'll keep flying there.

"It's an airport we're very proud of, and it's one we're committed to, but there's no doubt there's a big challenge being faced by Prestwick," he also said, noting the increased competition from Glasgow Airport. The latter last month achieved its 20th consecutive month of growth in passenger numbers, soaring to 783,000.

"Prestwick has to really get its act together," O'Leary said. "It's got to work harder too, if it's going to attract more airlines and more routes."

He said this development rests on scrapping APD, which he sees as "much more damaging" at regional airports like Prestwick that are more price-sensitive than counterparts in Glasgow or Edinburgh with a wealthier passenger base.

Ryanair will next year fly about 3.5 million passengers in Scotland, but O'Leary believes this could double in the next three or four years, "if we can persuade the UK to devolve APD to the Scottish Government [and] if the Scottish Government lives up to its commitment to scrap APD".

He also believes that dropping the tax would massively increase traffic at all three of the big Scottish airports, adding that the airline sees "enormous" interest in Scotland just now, spurred by the referendum, which he feels has strongly buoyed Scotland and its image.

The airline has benefited from an image boost itself, and O'Leary, who says he typically flies on Ryanair once or twice a week, detailed the change in attitude towards its passengers.

"One of the key developments at Ryanair over the last 12 months has been our focus on very significantly improving the customer experience," he said, noting that the company was previously strong in being low-cost and punctual, but didn't pay enough attention to customer "touch points".

He said the "fundamental" change has been "a terrific success", with the airline set to reach almost 88 million customers this year, from 82 million last year.

"If I'd known being nice to customers was going to work this well, I'd have been nice to customers much longer," he stated.