THE taxpayer is subsidising the loss-making Glasgow Prestwick Airport to the tune of more than £600,000 a month.
The Sunday Post has learned £17 million has been loaned to the airport since it was bought by the Scottish Government for just £1 nearly three years ago.
Spending watchdogs have warned the final bill could exceed £40m, with the airport not expected to return a profit for another seven years.
Prestwick was dealt a further blow last week when Ryanair – its last remaining passenger carrier – said it would “pivot growth away from UK airports” over the next two years in the wake of the Brexit decision.
Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “This is bad news for the airport and bad news for the taxpayer. The SNP was well-warned that a plan had to be in place to return the airport to the private sector as soon as possible.
“Now the amount of public money being diverted to this project risks getting out of control.”
Transport Scotland figures show that between February 2014 and March this year £16.8m was loaned to Prestwick, which is being run on a commercial basis by an arms-length organisation.
This newspaper has previously exposed the big financial challenges facing the airport, which has lost nearly two million passengers in the space of just seven years. Repayments on its loans are not scheduled to begin until the airport starts making a profit, which is expected to be in 2023 – 10 years after it was bought by the taxpayer.
However, this target is predicated on substantial increases in passenger numbers and the airport has twice missed passenger growth targets.
Eben Wilson, of Taxpayer Scotland, said: “Why are we keeping the passenger side of this airport going?
“There is a thriving commercial aerospace sector in that area that pays a lot in payroll and corporate tax.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The closure of Glasgow Prestwick would have been a devastating blow to Ayrshire.
“We safeguarded around 1400 jobs and secured an asset that contributes more than £61m to the Scottish economy every year.
“We want Glasgow Prestwick to grow into the vibrant business we know it can be, but have always acknowledge that there is no quick fix.”
A Glasgow Prestwick Airport spokeswoman said: “The team is confident that it will return the airport to profitability and long-term sustainability through developing a balanced business that is able to adapt and flex to changing market conditions.”
Last week Ryanair said it would “pivot growth away from UK airports and focus more on growing at our EU airports over the next two years”.
The airline confirmed that Prestwick would be included in this new strategy but said it was “too early to determine” quite how it would be affected.