Minister tight-lipped on Prestwick rendition flights

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Keith Brown dodged a question on whether a Scottish airport has been used by US military aircraft for rendition flights or live missions to Syria.

Labour’s Colin Smyth asked him: “Could the Cabinet Secretary tell us specifically whether Prestwick Airport has been used for either rendition flights or live missions to Syria by the US airforce?”

The Scottish Economy Secretary replied it is “legitimate” that Prestwick, along with “virtually every airport in the UK”, accommodates military flights.

He was questioned after having given statement at Holyrood on the airport, which the Scottish Government bought for £1 in 2013 when it faced closure.

Green MSP Ross Greer said: “Given that we know frontline US military operations are operating out of the airport… can I ask the Cabinet Secretary to confirm that the SNP Scottish Government are happy to support US military operations in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere using Scottish public property?”

Mr Brown said: “This [military flights] is a vital part of what the airport does, it has done it for decades and it will continue to do it in future.”

He was also questioned on when the airport would be returned to private ownership.

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “Unlike other Scottish airports the trend at Prestwick is for passenger numbers to be going down, cargo numbers are also going down and the only thing going up are military flights and the amount taxpayers are having to pay because the airport continues to lose money.”

Several MSPs repeated Ms Baillie’s claim military flights at the airport are increasing but Mr Brown said this is not correct and said they have fallen from nearly 9,000 in 2000 to 3,600 currently.

He added: “We can’t give a date for when we expect it to transfer back to the private sector.

“We do talk to anybody that shows an interest in doing that an we are seeing things moving in the right direction with the increase in turnover and the reduction in losses but it will take some time for us to achieve that.”

He said he believes the 2032 date given previously by the management team is achievable and the airport could be returned to private hands before then.