Glasgow International airport is the busiest of Scotland's three main International airports, handling over 7.9 million passengers a year.
It lies eight miles to the west of Glasgow city and is within easy reach of the rest of Scotland. Principal access is off junction 28 of the M8 motorway.
It was thought that the story of Glasgow Prestwick International airport began around 1934 with a few small planes using ‘the Meadows’ at the end of Monkton Village. However, historians have now discovered evidence that aircraft were on or near the site around 1913, a mere 10 years after the Wright Brothers first took to the air.
In the pre-war years, the site developed as a training airfield. The pioneer, David McIntyre, set up Scottish Aviation Ltd in 1935 and acquired 348 acres of Ayrshire countryside just behind Orangefield House. By the end of that year, accommodation had been developed including a hangar for Tiger Moth bi-planes, offices, lecture rooms and a small control tower.
As WW II intervened, the site developed into a major airport particularly for the delivery of American aircraft under the Lend Lease programme. On some days up to 300 aircraft arrived for onward delivery! At this time, training gave way to aircraft production undertaken by Scottish Aviation Ltd. Many famous aircraft types were built at Prestwick until production of the BAe Jetstream ceased in 1998. The original factory was expanded out of all recognition when in 1941, the Palace of Engineering, built in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow for the 1938 Empire Exhibition was taken down and rebuilt brick by brick at Prestwick. This magnificent building, an excellent example of Art Deco architecture survives today under the ownership of BAe Systems and can be seen on the North side of the airport directly opposite the terminal.
Unfortunately, a building that has not survived the expansion of the airport is Orangefield House. Built in 1690 by local landlord Dr Hugh Baillie, Orangefield House became the main terminal building for the airport in the post-war era. Famed for its restaurant and hotel facilities, the appearance of the building was hardly enhanced by the addition of the control tower onto the roof! Sadly, Orangefield House was demolished in 1966 to make way for the new parallel taxiway, a victim of the introduction of the jet-age. The only known remaining items from Orangefield House are the murals which once decorated the main lounge (now sited in the Prestwick Indoor Bowling Rink) and the maple floor which now graces the Aviator Suite function room in the present terminal building.
To maintain the airport’s place at the forefront of modern aviation, the Government announced in 1958, plans for a new terminal building, freight building, runway extension, control tower and loop road around the airport. The latter was necessary because the main road out of Prestwick towards Monkton passed across the runway! By April 1962 the new control tower had been built and by September 1964, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, officially opened the present terminal building.
Glasgow Prestwick International airport is synonymous with the history of Scottish Aviation. Many people will remember the airport for Elvis’ visit in 1960 or as the transatlantic gateway during the 1960’s to 1980’s. However, the airport’s future has never been brighter. The foresight in 1964 of the airport architects and planners in designing a facility capable of handling 3 million passengers a year now looks certain to be justified.