MINISTERS have been urged to stay clear of just warm words after they announced Prestwick Airport could be on the verge of being sold.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has announced a preferred bidder - believed to be a European investor - has been chosen to buy the airport.

It comes nearly four months after ministers tried to sell off Prestwick Airport again after a previous bid fell through because of coronavirus devastating the aviation industry.

The state-owned company behind the airport is continuing to try and sell its entire shareholding in “a voluntary competitive process”.

It follows the collapse of a previous year-long bid to sell Prestwick in September.

Scottish ministers paid £1 for the airport in 2013, taking it into public ownership to protect jobs and an economically important regional asset.

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The Government has since loaned it more than £42m to stay afloat, with £33m written off. Opposition parties have said the money owed to the public purse must be repaid.

HeraldScotland: Prestwick airport..

The Prospect union, which represents engineers, managers and scientists said that the "warm words must now translate into reality".

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, said: “This is welcome progress towards a sale of GPA. Prospect members will be reassured by the commitment to maintaining operations at the airport and to protecting jobs, although rightly they will want to know the full details of this.

“The Scottish Government should do what it can do ensure that this becomes a reality and not just warm words to protect jobs, aviation skills and connectivity for Ayrshire and the west of Scotland.”

Mr Matheson said it had always been the intention of ministers to return the airport to private ownership.

He told MSPs the advertisement for bidders placed in November attracted "credible interests".

He added: "Significant progress has been made and I have agreed the selection of a preferred bidder.

"This allows the process to move to the next stage and potentially an early divestment of our shareholding."

Prestwick Airport was put up for sale in June, 2019.

In May, last year Mr Matheson said a preferred bidder had been found for the 365-hectare site, but the sale had been delayed by Covid.

The bidder then pulled out, leaving the airport on the Government’s books.

Colin Smyth MSP, Scottish Labour's transport spokesman, said: "It is vital that any deal to sell Prestwick Airport must include a clear commitment from the buyer to retain and grow jobs at the airport.

"Any deal should also have a clear plan showing how the taxpayer will get back the tens of millions of pounds loaned to the airport from the public purse.

"We must not allow a cut-price sale for the sake of the SNP government washing its hands of the airport unless it gives the taxpayer value for money."

The sale is being made by state-owned TS Prestwick Holdco Ltd, which wholly owns Prestwick Aviation Holdings Ltd, which wholly owns Glasgow Prestwick Airport.

A pitch document published on the Scottish Government’s contracts website said: “TS Holdco is now exploring the sale of 100% of its shareholding in PAHL by way of a voluntary competitive process.

“GPA offers a wide range of aviation services including freight, passenger military, specialist executive handling as well as general aviation.

“GPA is the only airport in Scotland to have its own railway station and railway link straight to the terminal.

GPA has two runways serviced via six aprons.

The terminal building was originally constructed for four million passengers and currently has capacity for 18 check in desks, 10 gates and 12 stands.

“GPA is located on a significant land bank of 356 hectares – 65 per cent of which is utilised for aviation activities.”