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Scottish Government Set to Buy Airport Where Elvis Once Stood

The Scottish government is to buy Prestwick airport, best known as the only place Elvis Presley officially ever stood on British soil, to prevent the closure of the unprofitable terminal located 30 miles southwest of Glasgow.

The government plans to complete due diligence and detailed talks with Infratil Ltd., Prestwick’s New Zealand-based owner, within six weeks, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told lawmakers. The infrastructure company put the site on Scotland’s west coast up for sale in March 2012 and failed to find a buyer.

While a sale price has yet to be finalized, Infratil doesn’t expect “material proceeds,” Chief Financial Officer Kevin Baker said in a telephone interview in Wellington today. “When you fail to make a sale to any private-sector parties, and the government agrees to take it back into public ownership, then you’re not in a strong position to negotiate a very favorable price,” he said.

Ryanair Holdings Plc (RYA), Europe’s biggest discount airline, is the sole scheduled operator to serve Prestwick, connecting it with 27 destinations, according to the facility’s website. Scotland’s only rail-connected airport has struggled to attract other carriers, which prefer to use bases closer to Glasgow and Edinburgh, the country’s two largest cities.

Saving Jobs

Taking Prestwick into public ownership while seeking a long-term commercial investor will help protect 3,200 jobs directly and indirectly associated with the airport, Sturgeon told lawmakers. It proved impossible to get a private investor to commit to buying Prestwick in a timespan acceptable to Infratil, she said.

Passenger numbers at Prestwick totaled 621,000 in the eight months through August, its website says. That compares with 6.6 million through Edinburgh airport and 4.9 million at Glasgow.

Prestwick’s terminal can handle 3 million passengers a year and could easily be expanded to accommodate 10 million, the website says. In its heyday, the base served as a trans-Atlantic gateway and staging post for U.S. aircraft during World War II.

Prestwick still has Scotland’s longest runways, and with a lower incidence of fog than any other airport in Britain is often used as a diversionary terminal when others are closed.

Baker said Infratil may have been forced to close the airport without a sale to the government. The company is also trying to sell Manston airport in the U.K., and in May 2013 announced it had written down the value of both airports to 11 million pounds ($18 million).

Presley landed at Prestwick in 1960 on his way back to the U.S. from Germany after completing mandatory military service.

“There is a bar at the airport, in the departure lounge, called the Elvis lounge,” Baker said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Peter Woodifield in Edinburgh at pwoodifield@bloomberg.net; Matthew Brockett in Wellington at mbrockett1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Lytle at dlytle@bloomberg.net

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