Thailand is to open a regional air cargo hub at Utapao Airport on the industrialised eastern seaboard in late 2002 to strengthen its position in the freight sector as the country's first dedicated cargo airline prepares for operations.

Thai Airways International and the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand signed as equal partners on a 4 June agreement establishing Asia Transpark to run the 1.2 billion baht ($26.5 million) Global Transpark project.

A consultant will manage the project and seek investors, with 40% of the shares open to foreigners. Companies interested in using the facilities or investing include Thai's Star Alliance partners Lufthansa and United Airlines, DaimlerChrysler and Federal Express, Thai Government officials say.

Renewed momentum behind Transpark comes as Thai Air Cargo (TAC), a subsidiary of Thai shipper Commercial Transport International, prepares for operations later this year. TAC will offer overnight intra-Asia express freight delivery with the help of strategic partner Qantas Airways.

TAC says it received its air operator's certificate on 28 May, but has not said when operations will start or what aircraft will be used. TAC was originally set for take-off in 1997, but the region's economic downturn put its plan to use leased Airbus A300B4 freighters on ice.

Transpark's promoters claim the project is needed to fill a local capacity gap while a new airport is built near Bangkok.

Source: Flight International