The Ultimate e-AWB Guide Definition, Types & FAQs

Transporting cargo by air involves a ton of paper documents, which can be time-consuming, inefficient, and non-eco-friendly. 

To combat that, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) introduced the e Freight initiative to bring about the digitalization of the air cargo industry. 

Through this, the e AWB was born.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of e-AWBs — what it is, how to implement them, key benefits, and more. We’ll also introduce a popular e-AWB compliant software that you can try.

What Is an Electronic Air Waybill?

The electronic air waybill (e-AWB or e-air waybill) is the digital version of the traditional paper air waybill. It contains the necessary shipment data, contract of carriage, and other information required for the shipment to be transported.

The e AWB initiative was first introduced in 2010. It became the default contract for all air shipments on enabled trade lanes in January 2019 — although certain instances still require a paper document.

To use the e-AWB, all trade parties (shippers, carriers, ground handling agents, etc.) must settle on an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) communication channel. This can be done through an EDI-compatible freight forwarding software.

Now, let’s look at the different types of electronic air waybills.

3 Types of Electronic Air Waybills

As of date, there are three types of e-AWB related documents:

  • House Air Waybill (HAWB): A legal document that contains information about the goods shipped by the international courier and the shipment details.
  • Master Air Waybill (MAWB): An international document issued and signed by the air carrier or agent. It serves as evidence of the terms and conditions of the transportation of goods.
  • Electronic Consignment Security Declaration: An electronic version of the Consignment Security Declaration (CSD). The CSD is a regulatory document that details how, when, and by whom the cargo has been secured along the supply chain.

There are also different AWB codes. Here are some of them and what they mean:

  • FWB (Freight Waybill): Electronic message format of the Master Air Waybill, transmitted from the agent to the carrier.
  • EAW: Special handling code indicating shipment has an e-AWB with no accompanying documents.
  • EAP: Special handling code indicating shipment has an e-AWB with accompanying documents

By utilizing these cargo documents and codes, businesses can ensure a smooth and secure air cargo shipment process with the necessary information easily accessible and available.

So, how can you start using the e AWB?

4 Key Stages in e AWB Implementation

Implementing e-AWBs is a big change if your company mainly operates on traditional paper documents. 

There are four stages involved in the e-AWB implementation process:

1. Sign an Electronic Agreement with IATA

First, you must sign the IATA Multilateral e-AWB Agreement (MeA) — as mentioned in the IATA Resolution 672. 

This agreement allows a freight forwarder to perform an electronic document exchange (EDC) with all the members of the agreement. This includes stakeholders, other freight forwarder companies, ground handling agents, airline partners like Oman Air Cargo or China Airlines, etc. 

The MeA is free of charge, and to become a member of the agreement, you’ll have to do the following: 

  • Complete the MeA form and fill in all your company details (name, address, contact, etc.)
  • E-sign the form online or in PDF format, and send the signed agreement to IATA

Once the International Air Transport Association has signed the agreement, they'll send a copy to you to signify that your company is a member of the agreement.

2. Download and Enable Cargo XML Exchange

Once you're a member of the MeA, you can contact other members. 

To do so, you'll need the right freight forwarding software — one with an e AWB system like Shipthis. Moreover, it has to be compatible with the Cargo XML or Cargo IMP toolkits and the cargo community system your partners use. 

The toolkit is a plug-in that allows freight forwarders, carriers, and even government bodies to carry out eAWB messaging and share documents. 

Cargo IMP is the older messaging format launched in the mid-70s, while Cargo XML is the current default messaging format.

Even though both formats are still applicable, IATA suggests updating to the Cargo XML because it complies with the current customs and security requirements and has unlimited lines and characters. 

It’s also an internet-based message format, which works similarly to APIs with any freight forwarding software.

But remember, not all freight forwarding software is compatible with the Cargo IMP or Cargo XML toolkit. You’ll have to make sure that your current one supports it. 

The software should also be able to do the following:

  • Send Air Waybill messages
  • Receive Flight Status Update (FSU) messages
  • Archive electronic messages
  • Print-on-demand air waybill

Cargo XML isn’t a free toolkit and currently costs about USD 1050. After downloading the toolkit from IATA’s official website, follow the instructions on the pdf guide to connect the toolkit to your freight software.

3. Check the Quality of Electronic Messages

Before starting an e-AWB data exchange with the air carrier or freight partner, you’ll need to check the data quality. You’d want to ensure that the air waybill data entered is accurate since the slightest mistake could spell disaster. 

Typical errors that can occur include:

  • Invalid AWB data
  • Message and text syntax errors
  • Incorrectly configured cargo system (print layouts, message integration, etc.)
  • Delays in message transmission

Data quality assurance is important during the preparation stage and after the e-AWB is implemented. One way to ensure data quality is to employ a quality check feature. 

Most freight forwarding software has this, so you can save time when checking air waybill data quality.

4. Contact Partner Airlines to Activate the Agreement

The last step of e AWB implementation is to confirm the willingness of both parties (shipper and carrier). 

Before that, you’ll need to activate the MeA agreement with your selected airline partner(s). 

For example, they can agree on: 

  • e-AWB exchange methods (via the web or Electronic Data Interchange)
  • Which cargo community system to use
  • Business processes for e-AWB in all locations
  • Conducting messaging tests
  • Shipment terms

Once both parties agree to the terms, your airline partner will provide an Activation Notice. This document initiates all e-AWB processes between parties and contains the location of airports and effective shipment dates.

After signing this Activation Notice, airfreight forwarders and their partner airlines can begin e-AWB exchanges.

5 Key Benefits of Using e-AWBs

e-AWBs and the digitalization of the forwarding process can bring a range of benefits to your freight forwarding business. These include:

  • Faster processes: Generating and distributing e-airway bills takes up less time compared to a traditional paper AWB. This allows airfreight carriers and their partners to obtain and send air cargo information faster, plus speed up cargo booking.
  • Reduced environmental footprint: Using electronic air waybills can help reduce the amount of paper used by the industry, as the document can be stored and distributed digitally.
  • Greater productivity: It reduces the need for manual data entry, printing, and filling, thus letting your employees focus on other important tasks. Electronic ABWs also allow all parties involved (shipper, ground handler, forwarder agents, etc.) to access information in real time. 
  • Better customer service: Provides visibility over air freight forwarding processes, allowing your customers and partners to stay updated on the shipment progress. This also reduces the possibility of losing air waybill documents or data discrepancies to almost nil.
  • Enhanced reliability: Ensures electronic data accuracy, validity, completeness, and consistency. Using e-AWBs allows for more efficient data use throughout the entire process and reduces the possibility of delays.

Want to start using e-AWBs? 

Let’s look at a trusted freight forwarding software you can try to get the ball rolling:

Shipthis: A Solution for Your eAWB Needs


Shipthis is a freight forwarding solution provider that helps businesses manage logistics and cargo booking operations. The software has an e-AWB Submission function that allows you to work with multiple airline partners to consolidate and streamline your connectivity.

With Shipthis’ e AWB system, you can:

  • Streamline and simplify air cargo processes.
  • Eliminate time and fees spent on transmitting AWBs individually to each partner.
  • Automatically track shipments in real-time with the Shipthis Bot.
  • Instantaneously access AWB data and identify aircraft information (flight schedules, location updates, etc.)
  • Digitize documentation processes for better data quality and accuracy.

The software has a 30-day free trial, and its monthly plans start from $89/user.

Now, let’s look at some FAQs:

4 FAQs on e-AWBs

Here are the answers to some common questions about e-AWBs:

1. What Is the Difference Between AWB And Bill of Lading?

The air waybill (AWB) and bill of lading (B/L or BoL) are essential documents in air freight forwarding. 

They’re equally important but serve different purposes. 

Here’s a quick look at the differences:


  • B/L is a document the carrier gives to the shipper containing information about the goods transported. It's legally required to accompany the shipment and must be signed by all parties involved.
  • AWB is a document accompanying all international air shipments, providing detailed information and enabling tracking. It's also known as an air consignment note and is a type of bill of lading. 

Time of Issuance

  • B/L is issued by the carrier after the goods board the vessel and the vessel has departed from the port of loading.
  • AWB is issued by the air cargo carrier after receiving the consignment, and the aircraft leaves the airport of departure.

Number of Prints

  • B/Ls are issued in a full set, which includes three originals and three copies.
  • AWBs are issued in 9 original prints, and the number of copies issued depends on the number of parties involved in the transaction.

Mode of Transportation

  • B/Ls are issued for all consignments regardless of the type of transportation used.
  • AWBs are specifically issued for air consignments.

Governing International Regulations

  • B/Ls are subjected to the Hague Rules, The Hague-Visby Rules, and the US COGSA (US Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1936).
  • AWBs are subjected to the Warsaw Convention, Hague Amendment, and Montreal Convention.

2. What Is the IATA Multilateral Agreement (MeA)?

The Multilateral e-AWB Agreement allows signed International Air Transport Association members to conclude air cargo contracts electronically. These members include airlines, freight forwarder agencies, and cargo companies.

It contains guidelines for obtaining consent for e-AWBs, addresses operational details, and emphasizes confidentiality and data security

The agreement also outlines the rights and duties of all parties involved while maintaining the integrity of the conditions of contract and carriage without alteration.

3. What Is the Single Process?

“Single Process” is a concept made by the IATA to help smoothen the adoption of the e Freight initiative and e-AWBs.

Previously, electronic AWBs were only authorized on feasible trade lanes, and you’d still need a paper AWB outside these trade lanes. Additionally, sometimes certain countries still require a physical copy of documents for the air cargo shipment. 

With the Single Process, the freight forwarder doesn’t need to worry whether the country accepts electronic documents. 

All they have to do is send an e-AWB to the airline partner, and if a physical document is needed, the airline or ground handler can print out the electronic copy anytime.

4. Is There a Downside to Going Paperless?

Like any other method, going paperless still has limitations. For example, some carriers still require a paper document for dangerous goods (DG) or hazardous material shipments. 

So in the rare instance when an e-air waybill isn’t enough to cover the shipment of DGs, you’ll still need to submit a paper air waybill and other necessary documents.

Should You Implement e-AWBs?

e-AWBs are the norm in the air cargo industry today, and you should consider implementing them if you haven’t already.

It brings many benefits to your freight forwarding business, like saving costs, increasing data accuracy, and simplifying data handling.  

To implement them, you only need to sign the IATA’s MeA agreement and get the right freight forwarding software — like Shipthis!

Schedule a demo and experience the convenience of eAWBs through our freight forwarding software!

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