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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.
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.
As of date, there are three types of e-AWB related documents:
There are also different AWB codes. Here are some of them and what they mean:
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?
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
e-AWBs and the digitalization of the forwarding process can bring a range of benefits to your freight forwarding business. These include:
Want to start using e-AWBs?
Let’s look at a trusted freight forwarding software you can try to get the ball rolling:
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:
The software has a 30-day free trial, and its monthly plans start from $89/user.
Now, let’s look at some FAQs:
Here are the answers to some common questions about e-AWBs:
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:
Time of Issuance
Number of Prints
Mode of Transportation
Governing International Regulations
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.
“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.
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.
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!