Air Waybill (AWB) Definition: What It Is and How To Get One


Discover the significance of Air Waybills (AWBs) in international shipping. An AWB is a crucial document accompanying goods transported by air couriers, providing detailed tracking information. Understand its role as a contractual agreement and explore its key components. Learn how AWBs compare to bills of lading and where to obtain them for seamless international shipping.

An Air Waybill (AWB) is a vital document for international shipping via air couriers. It serves as a detailed tracking tool and a binding contract between shippers and carriers. Delve into the essential aspects of AWBs, including their purpose, contents, differences from bills of lading, and how to acquire them.

Understanding an air waybill (AWB)

An Air Waybill (AWB) functions both as an acknowledgment of goods by an airline and as a legally binding contract between the shipper and the carrier. This enforceable contract is established when both parties sign the document. Unlike bills of lading, AWBs are issued in non-negotiable form.

Standardized by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an AWB includes critical information such as the shipper’s and consignee’s details, origin and destination airport codes, declared shipment value, weight, and a concise description of the goods, along with any special instructions.

Moreover, the AWB outlines the carrier’s terms and conditions, including liability limits, claims procedures, applicable charges, and more.

Air waybill vs. bill of lading

Unlike bills of lading, AWBs are non-negotiable documents that don’t specify the exact flight or arrival date of the shipment. Bills of lading serve as legal agreements between shippers and carriers, detailing goods’ type, quantity, and destination. They also function as receipts upon delivery. In contrast, an AWB exclusively pertains to transportation, lacking coverage of merchandise value.

Requirements for an air waybill

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) issues two types of AWBs: airline-specific and neutral. Airline-specific AWBs contain carrier details, logo, and number, while neutral AWBs follow the same layout but aren’t prepopulated.

In the modern digital landscape, electronic AWBs (e-AWBs) have replaced paper versions. With the e-AWB resolution, adopted in 2010 and enforced by 2019, paper AWBs are no longer necessary.

Who provides the air waybill?

Air Waybills are IATA documents signed by both shippers and carriers. The IATA represents a substantial portion of global air traffic and includes major airlines and courier services like FedEx and UPS.

What Is required in the air waybill?

The AWB contains crucial information: shipper and recipient details, cargo value, origin and destination codes, quantity, weight, description, special instructions, and contractual conditions.

Where do I get an air waybill?

IATA offers a standard agreement for e-AWBs on its website. Many carriers, including FedEx, provide access to e-AWBs for convenient international shipping.

Examples of air waybills (AWBs) in international shipping

Understanding how Air Waybills (AWBs) are used in real-world scenarios can provide further insight into their significance in international shipping. Here are a few examples:

Example 1: exporting fresh produce

A farmer in South America wants to export a shipment of fresh fruits to Europe. To ensure the produce arrives in optimal condition, the farmer coordinates with an international courier service. The courier prepares an AWB that includes details such as the farmer’s name and address, the consignee’s details in Europe, the specific airports involved, the quantity and weight of the shipment, and special instructions for handling perishable goods. This AWB serves as a contract between the farmer and the courier, ensuring the shipment’s safe and timely transport.

Example 2: high-value electronics shipment

An electronics manufacturer in Asia is shipping a batch of high-value smartphones to North America. The manufacturer works with a renowned air courier to handle the shipment. The courier generates an AWB that lists the manufacturer’s information, the recipient’s details in North America, the origin and destination airport codes, the declared value of the electronics for customs purposes, the number of packages, their gross weight, and any special handling instructions. This AWB not only serves as a receipt of the shipment but also outlines the terms and conditions of the carrier’s responsibility for the valuable cargo.

Example 3: fashion retailer’s seasonal collection

A fashion retailer in Europe is introducing its latest seasonal collection in the United States. To ensure the timely arrival of the garments, the retailer collaborates with an international air courier. The courier generates an AWB containing the retailer’s details, the consignee’s information in the U.S., the relevant airport codes, the shipment’s value for customs clearance, the quantity of clothing items, their weight, and any unique handling requests. By using an AWB, the retailer ensures that the shipment is not only tracked but also subject to a legally binding agreement between the retailer and the courier.

These examples illustrate the diverse scenarios in which Air Waybills (AWBs) play a pivotal role in international shipping, offering a comprehensive document that facilitates tracking, defines contractual obligations, and ensures the smooth movement of goods across borders.

Frequently Asked Questions about Air Waybills (AWBs)

Q1: What exactly is an Air Waybill (AWB)?

An Air Waybill (AWB) is a document used in international shipping by air couriers. It contains essential information about a shipment, allowing for tracking and acting as a legal contract between the shipper and the carrier.

Q2: What does the term “non-negotiable” mean in relation to AWBs?

Non-negotiable refers to the fact that an AWB is not transferable or assignable to a third party. Unlike some other forms of shipping documents, an AWB does not represent ownership or entitlement and is specific to the transaction between the shipper and the carrier.

Q3: How is an AWB different from a bill of lading?

While both AWBs and bills of lading are transportation documents, there are significant differences. AWBs are used for air shipping and are non-negotiable, while bills of lading are used for various modes of transport and can be negotiable or non-negotiable. AWBs also do not specify the exact flight or arrival date, unlike bills of lading.

Q4: What information does an AWB typically include?

An AWB includes details such as the shipper’s and consignee’s names and addresses, the origin and destination airport codes, the quantity and weight of the shipment, the value of the goods, a description of the contents, and any special handling instructions.

Q5: Can I obtain an AWB for electronic shipping?

Yes, many courier services offer electronic Air Waybills (e-AWBs). These digital versions have replaced paper AWBs in many cases, offering greater convenience, efficiency, and accuracy in international shipping processes.

Q6: How do I acquire an Air Waybill (AWB)?

You can obtain an AWB through the International Air Transport Association (IATA) or directly from airlines and courier services. IATA provides standard agreements for e-AWBs on its website, while carriers like FedEx offer access to electronic AWBs for your convenience.

Q7: Are AWBs enforceable by law?

Yes, an AWB is a legally binding contract between the shipper and the carrier. Once both parties sign the AWB, it becomes a formal agreement that outlines the responsibilities and terms of the shipment’s transportation.

Q8: How does an AWB ensure the security and tracking of my shipment?

An AWB serves as a tracking tool, allowing you to monitor the progress of your shipment throughout its journey. The information contained in the AWB enables the carrier and other parties involved to keep a record of the shipment’s movements and status.

Q9: Can I modify an AWB after it has been issued?

Modifications to an AWB are typically discouraged due to the legally binding nature of the document. If changes are necessary, it’s advisable to consult with the carrier or courier service and follow their procedures for making amendments.

Key takeaways

  • An Air Waybill (AWB) is an indispensable document for tracking goods shipped internationally by air couriers.
  • AWBs serve as both receipts of goods and legally binding contracts between shippers and carriers.
  • AWBs are non-negotiable and include vital information about the shipment, carrier’s terms, and conditions.
  • Electronic AWBs (e-AWBs) have replaced paper versions, streamlining international shipping processes.
  • IATA is the provider of AWBs, representing a significant portion of global air traffic.
View Article Sources
  1. International Air Transport Association (IATA)
  2. FedEx
  3. Capital goods — SuperMoney