With less than a month to deadline, express carriers are still waiting for clarification from the Airport Authority of key details before tendering a bid for the new express centre at Chek Lap Kok. Bidders were asked in the original closed tender document to ask for more information in writing. Requests for meetings with the authority were recently denied in favour of written questions. 'With a tender agreement you need to have everything in writing. It ensures there are no misunderstandings and gives us time to do the research needed to answer queries in a comprehensive manner,' an Airport Authority spokesman said. 'We received queries from three participants and answered them within a week.' The answers were found wanting by at least one executive. 'They replied, but they didn't really answer some of the questions. We need more direct answers,' he said. The original tender document given to the four preferred bidders - Federal Express, United Parcel Service, TNT Worldwide and DHL Worldwide Express - calls for business plans for a self-handling facility, which means responsibility inside the centre for goods sorting and redistribution will fall to the winning bidder. But, with a March 15 deadline to submit business plans, carriers still do not know whether the winner will service its own aircraft, a process known as dedicated ramp handling. 'We would like to know about the possibility of ramp handling because we would like to have it,' UPS senior vice-president for China Liu Kai-ming said. 'If you operate your own building, you should be able to handle your own aircraft. It's more efficient to have our own people. It increases reliability, efficiency and security.' Another key detail yet to be defined is the building-plot ratio. The authority has dedicated a substantial 4.5-hectare plot but the tender did not specify how much of that space could be taken up by the centre. The plot is so expansive that some in the industry were caught off guard when the tender called for just one operator. The express executive said: 'I was really surprised the centre wasn't offered to all four players. My understanding was that the land was big enough for everyone to be accommodated.' He said the authority's contract with existing terminal operators at the airport may have been a factor. If the four carriers were allowed to move to the new centre, the existing operators, Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Ltd (Hactl) and Asia Airfreight Terminals (AAT) would have lost business. Both have already voiced their concerns about the new centre's impact on their revenue. 'Allowing only one operator at the new centre may have been the authority's way of placating Hactl and AAT,' the executive said. The authority's spokesman offered a different reason. 'It is the formula we thought the bidders would prefer. But we have not precluded the possibility of a joint venture,' he said. The growth of express cargo, which the authority describes as a 'door-to-door' product, was one of the few bright spots last year. While general cargo volumes fell 8 per cent year on year, express cargo volumes grew 9 per cent, according to the authority.