An air waybill (AWB) is a legally binding document that is typically issued by an airline. At times, it can be issued by a freight forwarder.
It is an essential document for shipments made via air freight. It serves as a contract between the consignor (shipper of goods) and the consignee (usually the recipient of goods). In this case, the consignor is usually the airline.
This document contains important information about the shipment, such as the names and addresses of the shipper and recipient, and the type and quantity of goods. Often, multiple copies of the AWB are made so that each party involved can document the shipment.
Purpose of an Air Waybill
An AWB acts as a contract of carriage between the shipper and carrier. It also serves as evidence that the goods have been received by the airline. Through the AWB, all relevant parties are given access to key information regarding the shipment such as details about the goods and how to handle them.
The AWB can be used for various purposes including:
- Shipment tracking
- Customs declaration
- Billing of freight charges
Air Waybill Formats
AWBs come in 2 formats. There is an airline-specific document which is issued by a particular carrier, and a neutral AWB which is not specific to any one carrier.
Airline-specific Air Waybill
This AWB is issued by a particular airline and can only be used for shipments transported by that carrier. It contains information about the consignor, consignee, the goods being shipped, and the terms and conditions of transportation.
The document must include the carrier’s information, such as the name and logo of the airline, and the head office’s contact details. It should also have a preprinted AWB number.
This legal document is subject to International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) regulations and conventions.
A Master Air Waybill is an example of an airline-specific AWB.
Neutral Air Waybill
A neutral AWB comes in the same format as its airline-specific counterpart. However, the carrier’s information is not printed on the document and the shipper can fill it in once it has been decided.
It is not necessary for neutral AWBs to follow IATA or air convention rules.
Types of Air Waybills
There are 2 types of AWB – the Master Air Waybill (MAWB) and House Air Waybill (HWAB). Both documents serve as contracts of carriage and receipts for air shipments. However, there are some differences.
Master Air Waybill
A MAWB is issued by the airline (consignor) or freight forwarder, who may act on behalf of the consignor, to the consignee. It serves as a master document and covers multiple shipments from different shippers.
This document is issued on the preprinted carrier form, also known as the airline-specific AWB, and contains the airline’s details and an 11-digit tracking number.
House Air Waybill
A HAWB is issued by the freight forwarder to the shipper. It does not include the airline’s name, logo, or address. It only contains the shipper’s and forwarder’s addresses. Additionally, the serial number found on the document cannot be used to track the shipment.
Air Waybill Template
Every AWB consists of the same information needed before the goods are shipped out. Below is a sample of a HAWB.
The information to be included in the document are:
- Shipper’s and consignee’s name and address
- Carrier’s name and departure city
- Departure and destination airport
- Billing party and account information
- Type of service: General, express or priority
- Shipment value
- Special handling information
- Description of the goods (e.g. the number of pieces, weight and price)
- Signatures of the shipper and carrier
Air Waybill vs Bill of Lading
An AWB is a type of bill of lading. While these documents are similar, there are some differences.
|Air Waybill||Bill of Lading|
|Title to goods*||No||Yes|
|Shipment type||Air shipments||Air and sea shipments|
|When the document is issued||After a shipment is received||After consignment is shipped on a vessel or air carrier|
|Number of copies issued||At least 8 copies, with 1 colour for each party involved||No restriction on the number of copies issued, but the total number issued must be stated on the bill|
*Title to goods refers to the right to possess the goods.
**A negotiable document allows the consignee to transfer the title to the goods to a third party.