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Air Waybill (AWB) Definition and How to Get One

Photo: Air Waybill Photo: Air Waybill

Air Waybill (AWB) Definition and How to Get One

International air couriers ship items with an air waybill (AWB) to offer tracking information. The bill has many copies so all parties can document the shipment. Air consignment notes (AWBs) are bills of lading. AWBs are non-negotiable. Hence, they offer less security than ocean bills of lading.

Understanding Air Waybills

An air waybill (AWB) is a carrier’s receipt of goods and a shipper-carrier contract. A legal agreement is enforceable by law. When the shipper and carrier sign the AWB, it becomes binding.

The air waybill also lists the shipper, consignee, three-letter origin and destination airport codes, declared shipment value for customs, number of pieces, gross weight, a description of the goods, and any special instructions (e.g., “perishable”).

The carrier’s responsibility limits, claims procedures, goods description, and costs are also in an AWB.

Flight Bill vs. Bill of Lading

Unlike other bills of lading, AWBs are non-negotiable. Therefore, they do not identify the shipment’s flight or destination. Bills of lading are legal documents between the shipper and carrier that specify the products’ nature, amount, and destination.

Shipping bills of lading are receipts when items are delivered to a predefined location. The items are accompanied by this paperwork signed by authorized shipper, carrier, and recipient officials. A bill of lading is negotiable, but an air waybill (AWB) is not. AWBs are non-negotiable transportation contracts that do not cover merchandise value.

Air Waybill requirements

IATA creates and distributes air waybills. There are airline-specific and neutral AWBs. Every airline AWB must have the carrier’s name, head office address, logo, and air waybill number. Non-prepopulated neutral air waybills have the same layout and format as airline AWBs.

Air waybills have 11 numbers and eight colors. Paper air waybills are obsolete with Multilateral Electronic Air Waybill Resolution 672.

Thee-AWB, used since 2010, became the default contract for all air cargo shipments on enabled trade lines in 2019.

Who Provides Air Waybill?

Air Waybills are IATA paperwork signed by the shipper and carrier. The IATA represents about 80% of air traffic, including many major airlines and parcel providers like FedEx and UPS.

Air Waybill Requirements?

An air waybill lists the shipper and recipient’s names and addresses, the cargo’s value, three-letter codes for the origin and destination airports, the number of pieces, gross weight, description, special instructions, and other contract terms.

Where Can I Get an Air Waybill?

IATA offers an e-AWB standard agreement on its website. Most carriers, including FedEx, offer e-AWBs for convenience.

The Verdict
International air waybills are contracts between you and the carrier that specify the shipment’s contents, origin, destination, and other details. The default form has been electronic since 2019. The shipment information is written in this non-negotiable agreement that all parties sign. Legally enforceable.


  • International couriers ship products with air waybills (AWBs) for tracking.
  • It is an airline’s reception of goods and a shipper-carrier contract. A legal agreement is enforceable by law.
  • Non-negotiable AWBs must include the shipper’s and consignee’s names and addresses, destination airport, and contents value.

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