The Airport Authority has finally launched its controversial tender to build and operate a dedicated express cargo terminal at Chek Lap Kok. It yesterday released copies of the documents with details of the closed tender to the airport's four express-cargo operators - Federal Express, DHL Worldwide Express, United Parcel Service and TNT. Tender documents were originally scheduled for mid-year release but the final draft is believed to have been completed only last month. However, even after the document's completion, its release was delayed as the authority grappled with the concerns of existing cargo terminal operators - Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals and Asia Airfreight Terminal. They are worried the new facility will erode their competitive positions. The global economic downturn and disagreement with the United States, the largest market for air cargo, over the pace of liberalising Hong Kong's air services, contributed to the delay. The tender terms are confined to the four express operators. Authority corporate communications manager Wong Sau-ying said the tender process would last at least seven months, with an 18-month construction period. While the authority has been challenged about proceeding with plans for the facility at a time of a global decline in economic health and falling cargo traffic, Ms Wong said it was needed to help the Hong Kong logistics industry stay ahead of regional rivals. 'Basically, we have felt, given the dramatic growth in the express cargo business since the opening of the airport, that Hong Kong needs a dedicated facility to help it achieve and maintain critical mass,' she said. The facility would be important to Hong Kong's aspirations to evolve its logistics industry to a more value-added role - from middle-man to integrator, she said. Express cargo had grown at twice the pace of general air cargo. In the first 10 months it grew nearly 10 per cent. Within 20 years, the share of express cargo to total cargo throughput at Chek Lap Kok is expected to nearly double to 13 per cent. The authority expects the new facility, with its direct access to the runway apron on a 4.5-hectare plot, to contribute an annual HK$150 million to the economy, and add 400 jobs. As well, another 300 jobs will be created during construction. A DHL official acknowledged it had expressed an interest in bidding, and had been consulting with the authority in the past six months, outlining its needs for the facility. A senior executive of one of the express carriers said any bidder's potential investment budget would hinge on the cost of the land, the maximum allowed building size of the new facility and its level of automation. DHL is understood to be watching the land cost issue closely. However, FedEx is believed to be more concerned with having a more flexible route schedule out of Chek Lap Kok from its main Asian hub, in the Philippines. For the company this hinges on the negotiation of a more liberalised air services agreement between Hong Kong and the US in the near future.