IATA moves to e-AWB effective Jan. 1

Following years of encouragement and industry incentives, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced today that the electronic air waybill (e-AWB) will become the default contract of carriage for all air cargo shipments on enabled trade lanes, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

The new default strives to make e-AWBs the norm, and paper AWBs the exception.

In 2017, more than 50 percent of the global air trade relied on paper-based documents, with a shipment generating up to 30 paper documents. Each year, more than 7,800 tons of paper documents are processed, the equivalent of 80 747 freighters filled with paper.

E-AWB penetration has reached 55.9 percent of legally “feasible trade lanes”, representing a 1.7 percentage-point change over the previous month. Feasible trade lanes now represent 69 percent of AWBs, the organization said.

IATA’s announcement is good news, but the slow pace of growth calls into question the ability of carriers and forwarders to reach IATA’s 68 percent e-AWB target penetration rate by the end of this year, as well as the ultimate goal of going paperless globally. Some of the major obstacles to e-AWB adoption include regulatory constraints when dealing with customs, technology limitations faced by small and mid-sized forwarders and a lack of process harmonization between freight forwarders, airlines and ground handling agents.

Among carriers that have pursued e-AWB adoption, Flydubai reported that it processed 100 percent of AWBs electronically. Kenya Airways reached 98.6 percent penetration, while Cathay Pacific reached 87.8 percent. Meanwhile, Lufthansa is incentivizing a switch to e-AWBs by charging a fee to process paper air waybills. On the freight forwarding side, DHL Express was the leader, with a 73.8 percent penetration level, followed by DB Schenker at 71.2 percent and Expeditors at 70.5 percent.

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Chelsea Toczauer

Chelsea Toczauer is the Associate Editor of the company’s daily news and monthly magazine Air Cargo World. She holds two BAs in International Relations and Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Southern California, as well as a double accredited US-Chinese MA in International Studies from the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University joint degree program. Chelsea speaks Mandarin and Russian.