Air Way Bill

By Евгений Николаевич Буробин (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

An Air Will Bill refers to a receipt issued by International airlines for the transportation of goods on behalf of their customers. It can be described as an air consignment note, which acts as evidence of the carriage contract between the shipper and carrier. However, an AWB does not act as a document of title to the goods, and it is therefore non-negotiable.

What does it include?
An air will bill is a type of a bill of lading but in this case it is used by international airlines and not ships. It includes a number of conditions of the goods carriage and other additional terms and conditions. It lists the carrier’s liability limits and procedures on claims. The document also describes the nature of the goods to be carried and the applicable charges for the service. It does not however, specify the flight that will be used to send the shipment or when it will get to its destination. There is one standard format that is used for the AWB in the airline industry. The format was agreed upon by the airline industry worldwide for both international and domestic traffic.

An air will bill forms one of the most crucial documents that are issued by the carrier either through their agent or directly. It usually covers the transportation of cargo from one airport to the other. After an IATA agent accepts any shipment, they are said to be acting as the agents of the carrier listed in the AWB. AWBs contain eleven digit numbers, which are used in making bookings, checking delivery status and the current shipment position. They come in eight sets bearing different colors. In an air will bill, the initial three copies are referred to as the originals. The first green colored copy belongs to the issuing carrier and the second copy (pink in color) is the consignee’s copy. The shipper’s copy is usually the third one that is blue in color. The fourth copy that is brown in color acts as the proof of delivery or delivery receipt. The remaining three copies are all white in color.

The 11 digits that make up an AWB number are divided into three parts. The first three digits are used to identify the airline prefix and the next seven digits represent the AWB’s serial number. The last digit is referred to as the check digit. The Check digit is derived after dividing the serial number by 7 and the remainder forms the Check Digit.

Why is an AWB needed?
An AWB serves a number of purposes and chief among them are expounded below. The document acts as a contract of carriage as stated earlier and all the conditions of this covenant are listed behind the original copy. It acts as evidence for the receipt of goods. It also acts as a freight bill as it is used as an invoice or bill together with other supporting documents. It may contain the charges that ought to be paid by a consignee and the charges due to the carrier and agent. It acts as a certificate of insurance if the carrier is in a good position to insure their shipment or when requested by the shipper. It can also serve the function of customs declaration as it acts as proof of the amount billed as freight for the goods. It can be used for purposes of clearing with customs.

Validity of an AWB
As a contract, an air will bill is enforceable by law and for it to be valid, it has to be signed by both parties i.e. the shipper (or their agent) and the carrier or their authorized agent. In instances where the same person acts on behalf of both parties, they must sign in both the boxes reserved for the shipper and carrier. An air will bill that is not dated and signed twice is not enforceable and the carrier will not bear any responsibility for the goods in question. The validity of this document and the whole contract of carriage ceases to exist upon successful delivery of the shipment goods to the stated consignee (or agent).

An AWB is non-negotiable making it different from the bills of lading that are negotiable. This means an air will bill is only recognized as a transportation contract. It does not in any way represent the value and quantity of the goods being shipped. It can also be used as a means of payment through a bank intermediary or when the carriage involves a letter of credit.


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