Air Waybill (AWB) in International Air Freight – A Guide for SMBs

Air Waybill (AWB) in International Air Freight – A Guide for SMBs
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The AWB, or Air Waybill, is a crucial document in air cargo transportation. In this guide, we will discuss the importance of an AWB, why it exists, its potential implications on your business’s operations, as well as the role of freight forwarders in this process.

The Air Waybill (AWB) is just one of many documents involved in the process of international shipping. It is essential that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), regardless of whether they operate independently or by partnering with a trusted freight forwarder, familiarize themselves with the concept of an Air Waybill to avoid misunderstandings and lack of knowledge that could result in unexpected penalties and delays.

In this guide, we will discuss the importance of an AWB, why it exists, its potential implications on your business’s operations, as well as the role of freight forwarders in this process.

What is an Air Waybill (AWB) in International Shipping?

The AWB, or Air Waybill, is a crucial document in air cargo transportation. It’s an evidence of the contract between the shipper and the airline carrier detailing the terms and conditions of the transport agreement, including the obligations and rights of all parties involved. 

Let’s get into more details:

Air Waybill (AWB) Definition

An Air Waybill (AWB), also referred to as a consignment or dispatch note, is a document issued by an international or domestic freight carrier to the shipper for the transportation of goods by air. It serves as a receipt for the shipper and evidence of the contract between the airline and the shipper, being a standard form distributed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). This document facilitates customs clearance processes in various countries and helps track shipments.

Who is Responsible for Filing the AWB?

It is the responsibility of the airline to issue the AWB, which serves as an evidence of contract for carriage, significantly reducing your administrative tasks.

If you are an SMB that handles shipping independently, it is likely that you will be required to provide the necessary information to the seller so that they can prepare your Air Waybill (AWB). 

The 2 Different Types of Air Waybills

There are mainly two versions, each suitable for a particular application:

  • Master Air Waybill (MAWB): It is the document that is issued by the main carrier of goods. The MAWB forms the contract between the freight forwarder and the airline for the transportation of consolidated goods between airports.
  • House Air Waybill (HAWB): When the goods land in the freight forwarder’s domain for onward shipment, the HAWB comes into play. By serving as a receipt for the goods, a contract of carriage, and a document of title, it is used for the shipping of consolidated packages.

What Information is Required on an Air Waybill AWB? 

The AWB is not just a document but a collection of information detailing the shipping process. The following are the integral components that make an AWB complete and functional:

  • Goods’ Profile: An all-encompassing account of the items in the shipment, touching upon their attributes and constituents.
  • AWB Identifier: A unique 11-digit numerical code associated with each AWB, serving as a tracker for the shipment’s journey.
  • Shipping Origin and Destination: Pinpoints the departure location and the final stopover of the cargo.
  • Sender and Receiver Information: Details about the involved parties, such as their names, addresses, and contact information.
  • Content details: Information about the total count of packages and their nature (e.g., barrels, cartons, pallets).
  • Shipment Specifications: A detailed account of the shipment’s weight, volume, and dimensions.
  • Cost Breakdown: An explanation of the expenses related to the shipment, identifying the responsible parties for payment and the payment method.
  • Specific Handling Directions: Guidelines on special handling requirements for the carrier to ensure the safe transportation of the shipment.
  • Customs Data: Vital information necessary for customs clearance, including product classification codes (HS codes).
  • Insurance Details: Relevant data about any insurance policies covering the cargo, if applicable.
  • Flight Schedule: Specific details about the cargo flight, such as departure and arrival airports and anticipated times.

Even though it is your freight forwarder’s responsibility to fill out these pieces of information, it is still a good idea to know what is expected of your service provider.

What is an AWB Number?

The Air Waybill (AWB) number is a unique 11-digit number used to identify each piece of cargo during the shipping process. The important thing to keep in mind is that this number isn’t just made up of random digits. The structure consists of three key components:

  1. Airline Prefix: The first three digits of the AWB number specify the airline. Each airline has a unique code assigned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which serves as a stamp of the shipping carrier.
  2. Serial Number: The subsequent seven digits are a unique serial number assigned to the particular air shipment, which serves as a form of identification for the cargo.
  3. Check Digit: At the end of the AWB number, there will be a single check digit. It is a mathematical control number that is derived from the ten digits preceding it. It is designed to act as a failsafe, ensuring the accuracy and authenticity of the entire AWB number.

Legal Requirements and Penalties

Meeting the legal requirements of AWB documentation is non-negotiable. A failure to accurately complete the AWB can trigger a variety of issues, including significant delays in the shipment’s transit. Moreover, non-compliant businesses may face hefty fines or, in the most severe cases, the confiscation of their goods. Therefore, attention to detail in AWB preparation is not just advisable but essential for a smooth and legally compliant shipping process.

Frequently Asked Questions about AWB for SMBs

If you still have questions, below you will find a list of frequently asked questions about Air Waybills (AWB).

What is the Purpose of an Air Waybill?

The AWB is designed to provide precise information about the shipment, ensuring it reaches the correct destination and aiding in tracking its movement throughout the transportation process.

How Does the AWB Process Work?

The AWB process involves the shipper or their agent providing all necessary details about the shipment. This information is then used by the carrier, freight forwarder, and customs officials throughout the transportation process.

What is the Importance of an Air Waybill in Air Cargo Transportation for SMBs?

If you’re an SMB exporting or importing goods via air, you’ll need an Air Waybill (AWB). This document ensures the carrier knows what they are carrying, where it’s going, who it’s from, and to whom it should be delivered.

How is the Information on an Air Waybill (AWB) Used Throughout the Transportation Process?

The AWB serves as a guide for all parties involved in the transportation process from the point of origin to the destination. It instructs the carrier on how to handle the shipment, along with acting as an aid in tracking the shipment and assisting customs officials in their inspections.

Is the Air Waybill a Negotiable or Non-Negotiable Document?

In contrast to some types of Bills of Lading, an air waybill is considered a non-negotiable document. It does not act as a means to transfer ownership of the goods but serves only as proof of receipt of the goods. 

How Does an Air Waybill Relate to Other Shipping Documents?

The AWB doesn’t stand alone; it complements other critical shipping documents, such as the Commercial Invoice and Packing List. By providing comprehensive data on the cargo’s journey, it supplements the information found in these documents, enhancing the accuracy and efficiency of the transportation process. 

What Are the Legal Consequences of Incorrect AWB Filing?

Incorrect AWB filing can lead to delays in transportation, penalties, or even confiscation of the shipment. Always ensure the AWB is filled out accurately and completely. 

Ship4wd is a Leading International Shipping Solution Tailored for SMBs

Ship4wd is an all-in-one digital freight forwarding service designed with the unique needs of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in mind. With Ship4wd as your trusted partner, you can increase your shipping efficiency and devote more attention to your business’s growth and success. 

Ship4wd offers a single-stop solution for all of your international shipping needs, where you can find instant quotes, book shipments online and track your cargo over an all-in-one dashboard. In addition, Ship4wd offers small and medium-sized businesses other complementing services to your shipping needs, such as door-to-door and port-to-port cargo delivery, online checkouts, flexible payment options, cargo insurance, among others. To assist you every step of the way, we provide 24/7 customer support to answer any questions and help you in any way we can.

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