BOSSES at Prestwick want to become the UK's first airport to introduce a system to fast-track passengers through US border controls before departure.

Mike Stewart, the newly-appointed director of business development at the taxpayer-owned Ayrshire base, said there was an "untapped market" for direct flights to the US from Prestwick.

"It's what we need at the airport and it's what the local people want too," he said, adding that it would be "absolutely fantastic" if Prestwick could follow the example set by Ireland and lure the UK's first US pre-clearance facility to Ayrshire.

The portals are commonplace in Canada and the Caribbean, but have also been extended to Dublin and Shannon airports in Ireland and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

They enable passengers en route to the US to clear immigration and customs before take-off, meaning they can bypass the queues when they land.

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Mr Stewart, 56, said: "There is no airport in the UK that's got it and none have applied. I've seen recent news reports about London and Manchester potentially applying for it, but I think for both it would be extremely difficult to achieve.

"If you've ever been through Shannon to the States, it's a dedicated gate that's handed over to American immigration so I would see that as something quite difficult for Heathrow and Manchester. You would have to schedule US flights from those gates constantly - it would really restrict them, I think.

"From a size perspective, Shannon is a regional airport similar to Prestwick. We're looking at all opportunities and we are aware of the benefits that [US pre-clearance] would bring.

"Nothing is off the table."

Mr Stewart, a Londoner who settled in Alloway 16 years ago with his Scottish wife, joins the Prestwick team after an illustrious 25-year career in aviation which included serving as commercial director at Worldwide Flight Services, the world's largest ground handling organisation.

The role saw him spend four years commuting from his home in Ayrshire to South Africa, where he brokered a number of lucrative contracts for WFS with airlines including Delta, Royal Jordania, China Southern, and Air China.

Mr Stewart said a direct flights from Prestwick to London was among his priorities in the year ahead to feed a "ready market" on the airport's doorstep, and was in talks with a number of airlines in a bid to attract new business to the base which was bought for £1 by the Scottish Government in 2013.

Once Scotland's transatlantic gateway, Prestwick Airport now has only one passenger carrier - Ryanair - which connects to holiday resorts in Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Malta. Passenger traffic in 2015 was around 600,000 compared to 8.7 million at Glasgow International.

"I think it's is crucial from the point of view of making the airport a success," said Mr Stewart. "We have to look at all of the areas of revenue we can, but yes - it obviously has to include another passenger airline.

"I am talking to a number of airlines right now."

Mr Stewart also believes there are untapped opportunities around major events. When Madonna played the Hydro in December, Mr Stewart was responsible for persuading Rock-It Cargo to use Prestwick instead of Doncaster, as planned, to dispatch 285 tonnes of concert freight back to the US in a contract worth around £30,000.

"The opportunities for Prestwick are enormous," said Mr Stewart. "I'm in it for the long-term - it's the dream job for me. We've got a five-year plan to turn the airport around and get it back to profitability and back into the private sector."