What is AWB?

AWB is the abbreviation of Air Waybill, is the most important document issued by an airline either directly or through its authorized agent. It is a non-negotiable transport document. It covers transport of cargo from airport to airport. By accepting a shipment an IATA cargo agent is acting on behalf of the airline whose Air Waybill is issued. There are several purposes that an Air Waybill serves, but its main functions are:

Contract of Carriage

Behind every original of the AWB are conditions of contract for carriage.

Evidence of Receipt of Goods

When the shipper delivers goods to be forwarded, he/she will get a receipt. The receipt is proof that the shipment was handed over in good order and condition and also that the shipping instructions, as contained in the shipper’s letter of instructions, are acceptable. After completion, an original copy of the air waybill is given to the shipper as evidence of the acceptance of goods and as proof of contract of carriage.

Freight Invoicing

The air waybill may be used as a bill or invoice together with supporting documents since it may indicate charges to be paid by the consignee, charges due to the agent or the carrier. An original copy of the air waybill is used for the carrier’s accounting.

Certificate of Insurance

The air waybill may also serve as evidence if the carrier is in a position to insure the shipment and is requested to do so by the shipper.

Customs Declaration

Although customs authorities require various documents like a commercial invoice, packing list, etc. The Air Waybill, too, is proof of the freight amount billed for the goods carried and may be needed to be presented for customs clearance. The format of the Air Waybill has been designed by IATA and these can be used for both domestic as well as international transportation. These are available in two forms, the airline logo equipped Air Waybill and the neutral Air Waybill. Usually, airline Air Waybills are distributed to IATA cargo agents by IATA airlines. The Air Waybills show:

  • The airline’s name
  • Its head office address
  • Its logo
  • The pre printed Air Waybill number

It is also possible to complete an Air Waybill through a computerized system. Agents all over the world are now using their own in-house computer systems to issue airlines’ and freight forwarders’ own air waybills. IATA cargo agents usually hold air waybills of several airlines. However, it gradually became difficult to accommodate these pre-numbered Air Waybills with the printed identification in the computer system. Therefore a neutral Air Waybill was created. Both types of Air Waybill have the same format and layout. However, the neutral Air Waybill does not bear any pre-printed individual name, head office address, logo and serial number.

Air Waybill that Valid

We have seen earlier that the air waybill is a contract i.e. an agreement enforceable by law. To become a valid contract it has to be signed by the shipper or his agent and by the airline or its authorized agent. Although the same individual or organization may act on behalf of both the airline and the shipper, the air waybill must be signed twice one each in the respective carrier and shipper boxes. Both signatures may be of the same person. This also implies that the air waybill should be issued immediately upon receipt of the goods and letter in instructions from the shipper.

As long as the air waybill is neither dated nor signed twice, the goods do not fall within the terms of the conditions of contract and therefore the carrier will not accept any responsibility for the goods. The validity of the air waybill and thus the contract of carriage expire upon delivery of the shipment to the consignee (or his authorized agent).

Responsibility for Completion

The AWB as we have seen is a contract – an agreement between the shipper and the carrier. The agent only acts as an intermediary between the shipper and carrier. The air waybill is also a contract of good faith. This means that the shipper will be responsible for the accuracy and sufficiency of the details and/or statements relating to the goods listed. The shipper shall also be liable for all the damage suffered by the airline or any person due to irregularity, incorrectness or incompleteness of insertions on the air waybill, even if the air waybill has been completed by an agent or the carrier on his/her behalf. When the shipper signs the AWB or issues the letter of instructions he/she simultaneously confirms his agreement to the conditions of contract. Below is the standard Air Waybill form.