written by | May 9, 2022

What Is an Air Waybill? Explanation with Example

An air waybill is primary and crucial documentation issued by any international air carrier, directly or through an authorised agent. This irrevocable travel document governs cargo transport from the airport to the airport.

When accepting a shipment, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) cargo agent acts on behalf of the company that issued the air waybill. Creating a unique ID for tracking helps identify the shipment for any business organisation involved in transportation.

This process is managed inside the SAP Transportation Management system through the stock waybill mechanism. The air waybill stock is maintained according to your business partner and the combination of organisations and the prefix used to put at the beginning of the generated number.

Did you know?

India has 12 'major' and over 200 'non-major' ports. Considering cargo, Mundra Port, Gujarat, is currently the #1 port in India. Mundra recently dominated Mumbai's Jawaharlal Nehru Port and became the busiest container port in India, handling 5.7 million twenty-foot equivalent unit cargo in 2020-21. The Mundra port dealt with 144.4 MT (million tonnes) in 2020-21 at Mundra Port. Next, we have discussed the meaning of air waybill.

Also Read: Import and Export Procedures & Documentation Followed in India

What Is an Air Waybill?

An eleven-digit code is assigned to the air waybill - the identification number of the air transportation company (3 digits) and the shipping code (8-digits). The shipper can use this code to refer to the shipment for checking its status and making additional bookings. The shipper must include these details on the air waybill no:

  • The carrier(s) identification, the dispatch from the airport and the entire transport route.
  • The IATA code and IATA agent detail who was responsible for transport.
  • Information about transport costs such as freight cost, delivery dates and the chargeable amount.
  • Information about the contracting party, recipient and air transportation company.
  • Details about transport insurance.

The 9-sheet air waybill comes in 6 colours and has nine sheets.

  • Blue: An original copy, the shippers.
  • Brown: A copy serves as the delivery receipt/proof of delivery
  • Green: A copy of the issuing carrier's original on top
  • Pink: An original copy of the consignee's book
  • White: There are four copies of this stack at the bottom, which you can use for different purposes.
  • Yellow: A signed certificate and proof that the receiver has received the goods.

These are the main functions of an air waybill.

  • Confirms that the merchandise was received.
  • Creates a formal contract for the transportation of goods and thereby certifies the bill of lading.
  • Provides details about the carriage.
  • It shows the cost of service.
  • Explains the logistics of handling merchandise and transport.
  • Notices insurance coverage on-demand.
  • Outlines the terms and conditions that were agreed upon between the parties.
  • Serves as a declaration document for customs.

What Does Non-Negotiable Air Way Expense Mean?

Every air waybill will have "Non-negotiable" printed. AWBs are contracts that transport goods, and they do not include the money value of the goods being shipped. The AWB doesn't mention when your cargo will reach its destination or what time it will arrive at your destination airport. Do you know what exactly air waybill is? Know the detailed meaning of air waybill in the following section.

What Is Air Waybill Meaning?

The air waybill proves that the contract is complete, that the cargo was accepted and that the transport conditions were met. The carrier is responsible for any delay or damage during air cargo transport. But, what if the carrier can prove that the airline caused the damage? The carrier is then released completely or partially from any liability.

Usually, you'll see a tag on the set AWBs with the cargo to allow for instant identification in transit and customs clearance at the destination airport. The cargo agent or the importer of the shipment arrives at its destination, and they will obtain the airway bill and any other documentation provided by the exporter. You can also obtain documents from the shipper by mail or courier.

The Importance of an Air Waybill

Let's take a look at the importance of an air waybill.

  • It contains contact information for all parties involved with the shipment.
  • This describes the nature, character, weight, dimensions and characteristics of the goods.
  • Act as a transport agreement between the shipper & airline.
  • Shippers and consignees can track the movement of goods using this tool.
  • You can use it as a freight invoice as long as you accompany it with other documents.
  • This document is evidence that the goods arrived in good condition.
  • If the goods are to ship, air waybills prove that a carrier intends to insure them.

Also Read: All About Import-Export Code (IEC) Number

Air Waybill Format: HAWB vs MAWB vs EAWB

Master Air Waybill (MAWB)

The primary carrier, or shipping company, receives the freight forwarder's signs and goods and further issues an air waybill. This document contains details about air cargo transportation such as routes, cargo contents, terms and conditions, etc.

This type of bill is a Master Air Waybill.

House Air Waybill (HAWB)

The supplier receives an air waybill from the freight forwarder. This acts as a receipt for delivery and contains details about the terms of the transaction and cargo.

An air waybill is also termed a House Air Waybill (HAWB).

Electronic Air Waybill (EAWB)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), also known as an Electronic Air Waybill, is a term that allows for the transfer of critical information regarding trade between primary cargo operator (primary cargo operator) and freight operator (freight operator). EAWBs are useful to replace traditional air waybills and reduce paper usage, and it also cuts down on processing time and cost.

The Difference Between Bill of Lading and Air Waybill

In the initial days, some exporters often faced confusion with two documents, namely the bill of lading (BL) and the air waybill, which are different, but sound alike.

This will solve the confusion because both documents are legally binding and include the shipment air waybill details.

Many things distinguish the BL and AWB, and these are just a few of the differences between these documents.

1. Legal Status

A BL is a document of title to goods that proves ownership. Hence, BL's original copy is surrendered when the goods are received. However, AWB isn't a document of title to goods, and it's only a delivery proof.

2. Mode of Transport

AWB is useful for the cargo you want to move via air freight. BL can be issued for consignments to be loaded onto a vessel and shipped via ocean routes.

3. Conventions and Norms

AWBs are issued according to the IATA standard format.

4. The Copies

The AWB comes in a set of 8 copies, the first three copies are originals, and the rest are copies. The BL is available in 6 copies, out of which half are original, and the rest are copies.


Beyond the purposes previously mentioned, the air waybill also serves one particular benefit. Importers and exporters can use the 11-digit number on AWBs to monitor their shipments. Once you have received an AWB issue, the transporter can only recognise your products with your AWB number.

To follow your shipment's progress, access the airline's tracker of air cargo. On the next page, you can enter your AWB's number in the appropriate field, and you will get the most current information on the status of your cargo.
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Q: Why is the air waybill a non-negotiable agreement?


Unlike Bills of Lading which transfer ownership of goods, Airwaybills are not negotiable, and they are simply proof of receipt. Also, it won't specify a flight for which the shipment will be forwarded or when the shipment will be able to reach the destination.

Q: Is the air waybill identical to the tracking number?


If we talk about air waybill numbers, AWB includes an eleven-digit identification number - an "AWB Number," which can track the shipment. The AWB number serves as the tracking number.

Q: How do you generate an air waybill?


After knowing what air waybill is, you have to log in to your account at your shipping company's site and enter the AWB number they have provided. Click on "Save" to add the items you want to ship under the air waybill.

Q: How can I obtain an air waybill?


You can find the AWB format on the official website for carrier companies. An electronic AWB replaces the paper AWB. This eliminates the need to print, manage and preserve paper, simplifying the air freight process. The shipper receives an air waybill after passing the freight. After receiving the goods, the air carrier will deliver the AWB of the goods.

Q: What is the air waybill number?


It is the receipt proof that airlines produced and shared with all parties involved in the shipment of goods. This legally binding document is a contract between the airline and the shipper.

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