THE number of passengers travelling through Glasgow Prestwick airport has slumped to its lowest level in more than a decade in the wake of budget airline Ryanair cutting services

Figures show just 1.2 million flew in or out of the Ayrshire terminal in the year to April, almost one-fifth down on the 2010-11 numbers.

The latest blow to Prestwick came after its biggest carrier Ryanair announced it would be focusing its growth at Edinburgh and grounded a number of its aircraft over the winter.

From a peak of 2.4 million passengers in 2007 following a rapid expansion of low-cost air travel, traffic has gradually dwindled, with the latest figures taking it back to a level not seen since 2001.

Prestwick's New Zealand-based owners Infratil revealed the figures two months after it announced the sale of the airport, along with its other European site, Kent Manston, after saying they were "underperforming".

Iain Cochrane, chief executive, said he was "disappointed" with the latest figures. "In common with other UK airports we've had a poor winter and the disappointing numbers reflect that," he said.

"However, our largest-ever summer programme is now well under way with 27 routes to nine countries, with flights to Ibiza, Crete, Corfu, Malta and Barcelona proving especially popular. So we're confident we'll bounce back."

Experts have expressed doubts over the ability of Prestwick to bounce back from the decline that began late in 2008, as the global aviation industry was gripped by a severe downturn.

It faces renewed competition from Glasgow airport, with low cost airline Jet2 offering flights to similar sunset destinations, while Ryanair's recent decision to cut back on expansion at Edinburgh has not benefited Prestwick. As well as suffering from a downturn in its air-freight business, the airport is thought to receive very little in landing fees from Ryanair compared to bigger airports.

The amount of freight handled at Prestwick has declined significantly, with 11,709 tonnes of cargo being processed in the 2011/12 financial year – down nearly 10% on 2010/11.

Infratil has since selected PricewaterhouseCoopers to undertake the sale. A spokesman said talks were progressing "positively" but gave no further details.

The sale will be the latest in a number of changes of ownership seen at Prestwick, which was mainly used as a fuelling post for aircraft flying over the Atlantic in the 1980s.

In 1991 the newly-privatised British Airports Authority, BAA, put the airport on the market and it was sold the following year to Canadian businessman Matthew Hudson who sold it six years later to transport group Stagecoach, which then sold it to Infratil in 2001 for £33.4m.

In 1960, the airport became famous for being the only place where Elvis Presley set foot on British soil as his US army troop carrier was heading for Germany.