There’s plenty going on at Scotland’s Glasgow Prestwick Airport. Ron Smith spoke to Airside about how the airport operator is going about managing that change
Q. WHAT IS THE LATEST ON THE AIRPORT’S OWNERSHIP STATUS, AND POTENTIAL FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS IN THAT REGARD?
A. Glasgow Prestwick Airport is under the ownership of the Scottish Government. However, the airport is run at an arm’s length and on a commercial basis.
The leadership team is not actively looking to sell the airport – its number one priority is developing long-term profitability and sustainability. That being said, the new leadership is clear that if potential investors make contact, then their interest will be assessed. If they have the potential to help accelerate the turnaround and the delivery of a long-term sustainable future for the airport then we will talk to them.
One investor who has approached the airport is HNA Group. The airport signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with HNA in London on 25 August. This MoU enables both parties to enter into preliminary discussions about a wide range of potential partnership and investment opportunities into the airport.
Q. AMONGST THE MANY CHANGES OF LATE AT GLASGOW PRESTWICK HAS BEEN THE APPOINTMENT OF A NEW MANAGEMENT TEAM. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE THINKING BEHIND THAT?
A. Glasgow Prestwick Airport completed its new leadership team with the appointment of myself as CEO in May. I bring more than 25 years of experience of operating at an executive level to Glasgow Prestwick, experience spanning aviation, manufacturing, technology and engineering.
Supporting me in my efforts to deliver a profitable and sustainable airport are Derek Banks as finance and commercial director (who also joined in May), Mike Stewart as business development director (who joined in January), Jules Matteoni as operations director (who has 22 years’ service), and Sonia Rafferty, human resource director (who has 16 years’ service).
In the short time that I have been with the airport, I have identified the need to be much more proactive when it comes to selling the various services that the airport has to offer. As such, one of my first orders of business was to bolster the business development team. The airport has now appointed a passenger route development manager, David Craig, and a general aviation and military business development manager, Kris Ballie. This new team is led by Mike Stewart, who will focus on developing the airport’s cargo business.
Q. HAS IT BEEN A BUSY TIME FOR YOU SINCE THE NEW MANAGEMENT TEAM TOOK OVER? HAS IT BEEN A CASE OF A ‘NEW BROOM’ OR HAVE YOU SOUGHT A HIGH DEGREE OF CONTINUITY?
A. At leadership level there has been a significant amount of change. The new chairman and Non-Executive Board decided to reshape the team to ensure that it had the right skills, knowledge and experience to drive the business forward.
Although there have been significant changes with the recruitment of a new CEO, finance and commercial director and business development director, there is still almost 50 years of experience working with Glasgow Prestwick Airport at the leadership team table through the operations and human resource directors.
The airport believes that this combination of experience from a range of industries and fresh thinking combined with the detailed knowledge of the airport, how it operates and its journey to date will be a winning formula.
It is important to remember that (as of October) the ‘new’ leadership team has only really had a full permanent complement for four months. It is still early days for the new leadership team and there is a bit of familiarisation and exploration required before setting out what the strategy will be moving forward. This team is working on the strategy now and it will be announced by the end of this year.
There are a lot of things at Glasgow Prestwick Airport that make it unique and that work well. Central to this strategy will be identifying how we can maximise on the ‘good stuff’, whilst improving the areas that need attention.
The possibilities at the airport are vast and there are a lot of projects that we could undertake to improve our business. However, as with any business, we do not have limitless resources and we will need to prioritise, and therefore the change required may take time to deliver.
Q. ARE YOU LOOKING TO EXPAND THE NUMBER OF FLIGHTS THROUGH GLASGOW PRESTWICK IN THE MONTHS AND YEARS AHEAD?
A. Absolutely. One of the pillars of our strategy will be looking to grow across all of our business areas – including passenger, cargo, military, executive and general aviation. This is fundamental to delivering a sustainable business, as it will provide more resilience to changes in the airport’s external environment.
In relation to the routes we will be looking to secure, we are working on delivering some domestic connectivity with London but we are also exploring a number of other international opportunities.
Glasgow Prestwick Airport is unique in its abilities to handle large and specialist cargo jobs and we believe that we will definitely be able to secure some business in this area in the coming years. For example, through an MoU between the Scottish Government and Heathrow, we will be looking to create a cargo hub to transport materials manufactured in Scotland that will need to be moved down to construct an additional runway and terminal at the London airport, should Heathrow be successful in securing approval for a third runway.
We have invested in a dedicated immigration clearance facility for our fixed-base operator (FBO) customers and we hope to utilise this to attract private aviation customers visiting the west of Scotland (and these could be arrivals from all over the world).
Q. DO YOU SEE GLASGOW PRESTWICK AS VERY MUCH A PROVIDER OF A BALANCED PORTFOLIO OF AIR SERVICES? WILL THAT CONTINUE TO BE THE CASE?
A. Yes. The fact that we offer a full range of aviation services is one of our key selling points – if you need anything aviation-wise in the west of Scotland, we’ve got you covered! In fact, some of our services are unique in Scotland and even into the north of England.
A further benefit across many of our service areas is that they are managed end-to-end by the in-house team. This streamlines the process and delivers savings for our customers. It makes us a very straightforward airport to work with, where customers can have one point of contact that will co-ordinate the delivery of everything you need – from facilities to fuel.
It is also important to remember that our service offering goes beyond handling and landing-related services. We have a diverse property portfolio including offices, warehouses and hangers. This makes a significant contribution to our revenue.
We are keen to build on our current tenant list and attract more aerospace companies to establish a presence at Prestwick. Building on this has knock-on benefits. It can enhance our appeal to our aviation customers through having services like maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) on-site. We recently announced that Chevron would be setting up a facility at Prestwick. It will join Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance, meaning that we will have two major MRO providers on our airfield.
In addition to developing our existing portfolio, we will also be looking at ways in which we can diversify within the aviation sphere. Glasgow Prestwick Airport has always been pioneering and, as such, we are looking to secure a licence to be the UK and Europe’s first spaceport. This will offer a further revenue stream and hopefully more opportunity and sustainability.
As we said previously, ensuring that we achieve a balance across all of these areas will enable us to deliver a sustainable and resilient airport.
Q. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR PLANS TO BECOME A SPACEPORT?
A. On 20 May this year, the UK Government announced its decision to cancel the bid process for a UK spaceport and replace that with a licensing framework. This will enable a broad range of commercial spaceflight operations to be established in the UK.
The types of commercial space operation that the UK Government is potentially aiming to license include:
Horizontally launched sub-orbital spaceplane operations for microgravity experiments and passenger spaceflight experience
Satellite launch into orbit from horizontally launched sub-orbital spaceplanes
Vertical satellite launch systems and recovery
Glasgow Prestwick Airport is now engaging with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Department for Trade (DfT) and the UK Space Agency to establish the licensing criteria for operating a spaceport in the UK. We expect to become the first fully licensed operational spaceport in the UK, with minimal investment required to achieve this.
We see our opportunity in this area lying in terms of:
REUSABLE LAUNCH SYSTEMS
Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport is a prime location for the development and operation of reusable horizontal space launch systems with safe over-water take-off paths. The infrastructure for such systems is largely already in place.
The on-site broad-based aerospace industry has the science, technology, engineering and mathematics knowledge and skills and experience to help make this happen.
The existing broad-based AeroSpace infrastructure that surrounds the Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport will be able to provide immediate technical and engineering support to any new space launch operator choosing to use the spaceport.
Glasgow Prestwick Airport sees itself as the prime location for polar orbiting and sun-synchronous orbiting satellites given its northerly latitude. There are very few higher latitude sites.
The accessibility of the site, along with the favorable climate conditions, makes it one of the most cost-effective and lowest risk polar launch sites.
The airport’s experience in specialist and heavy cargo handling and its developed and capable aerospace industry make it an ideal location for any mission preparation activity – missions can then be deployed from Prestwick to any launch site around the world.
Glasgow Prestwick Airport is familiar with managing the community engagement and publicity around innovations in aviation and aerospace.
SAFE LANDING SITE
Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport’s location on the European western seaboard with clear over-sea approaches also makes it an ideal emergency landing site for aborted US space launches and planned or emergency de-orbits for any horizontal landing spacecraft.
The spaceport’s heavy cargo handling capability, coupled with the extensive on-site aerospace engineering infrastructure, ensures that a landed spacecraft can be quickly secured and shipped back to any location on the planet.
Q. WHAT OTHER PLANS DO YOU HAVE? DO YOU INTEND TO INVEST FURTHER IN YOUR AIRSIDE INFRASTRUCTURE AND FACILITIES?
A. The airport’s core infrastructure – for example, the runway – is in good condition as there has been a rolling maintenance programme. However, beyond these core parts of our infrastructure, one of the challenges that we have is that the previous ownership heavily under-invested in the airport. We need to bring a lot of things throughout the airport up-to-date.
As we progress with the development of our strategy, we will develop investment plans. We will be looking at things like our property, equipment and a number of other areas. Key considerations in our investment plans will be improving efficiency, effectiveness, safety and, importantly, sustainability.
There are a number of investments that we know are required, so we have proceeded with finalising the overarching strategy. This includes investment in a new radar system that will help to mitigate wind farm clutter. We’ve also invested in equipment to improve our efficiency and passenger experience – for example, a new ambulift to assist passengers with reduced mobility (PRM). We are also changing to electric vehicles where possible.