LONDON (Reuters) - The Scottish government unveiled plans on Tuesday to buy Prestwick airport near Glasgow from the current owner, New Zealand utilities investor Infratil Ltd, to safeguard jobs.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped negotiations with Infratil to take Glasgow's second airport into public ownership would take no longer than six weeks.
She said Infratil had been trying to sell Prestwick Airport and Manston Airport in Kent, southeast England, since March last year and some private investors had shown interest but none was able to commit on a timescale acceptable to Infratil.
"Prestwick Airport's importance to the local Ayrshire and wider Scottish economy cannot be overstated - and it is vital that all efforts are made to keep the airport open," Sturgeon said in a statement, giving no further details on the talks.
Sturgeon said about 300 people depended directly on the airport for employment with 1,400 associated with the facility. A wider "aerospace cluster" of industry at Prestwick supported about 3,200 jobs.
She said she was confident that the government, which already owns 11 mainly small airports linking remote communities, could return Prestwick Airport to profitability.
Infratil has been open about its plans to sell its British airport investments as it refocuses its investment portfolio.
Marko Bogoievski, Infratil's chief executive, said in a statement that the company recognised the importance of these airports to their local communities and wanted to secure new owners with the capacity to support their future success.
No one was immediately available from Manston Airport to comment.
Shares in Infratil, a top-10 stock, closed at NZ$2.51 (1.30 pounds) on Tuesday before the Scottish government's announcement.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Greg Mahlich)