IATA e-AWB to become default from January

Written by: Felicity Stredder |
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Effective January 1, 2019, the electronic Air Waybill (e-AWB) will become the default contract of carriage for all air cargo shipments on enabled trade lanes, IATA has announced.

This decision, made at the Cargo Services Conference, is an important step as it recognises that “e-AWB” now reflects the majority of shipments on feasible trade lanes. It is hoped to further encourage a scenario where digital processes become the norm and paper processes the exception.

IATA's Corporate Communications Manager, Katherine Kaczynska, explains the meaning of 'default'. "The old IATA rules were written in a way that stated paper AWBs were required and electronic was optional, i.e. subject to agreement by the business partners. The rules from January 2019 will now state that electronic AWBs are the standard method on feasible trade lanes and that paper AWBs are optional, i.e. subject to agreement by the business partners."

"So this means normal practice should be e-AWB and that paper is still possible but should be considered nonstandard," she relates. "In terms of processes, this change doesn’t affect the current e-AWB processes or standards."

She adds that it is up to each individual airline to define their product and commercial policy, and thus any potential penalties for using paper - a decision which does not involve IATA. The new initiative also acknowledges that a paper air waybill may still be required as a result of international treaties, national law, or as bilaterally agreed between the parties.

The reason for the decision being taken now, Kaczynska continues, is because when the initiative was first raised at the end of 2017, more than 50% of the shipments were already using the electronic air waybill and the growing number of stakeholders using the e-AWB showed that the industry was ready to embrace full digitalisation.

"It was the right momentum to capitalise on the increase of the e-AWB adoption. Over the past three years, the number of e-AWB almost doubled (+100%) while the total number of AWB grew by 20%," Kaczynska says.

Current e-AWB penetration stands at 55.9%.

The necessary information for implementing e-AWB can be found in the IATA e-AWB Implementation Playbook.


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