Airway Bill - Meaning

An Airway Bill (AWB) is a document that consists of all the details about the goods that are transported via air cargo. Airway Bills are issued by a carrier or the agent representing the carrier and have details such as the shipment contents, the details of the supplier and the recipient, terms, and conditions under which the trade is to occur, and other vital information.

Another significant thing about the Airway Bill is that it is a legal document, often used during disputes between the parties indulged in the trade. It is, therefore, that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has instructed air cargo operators worldwide to issue airway bills in a standard format to ensure that there are no discrepancies.

Functions of AWB

Airway Bills serve multiple purposes and below are a few:

Functions of airway bill

Proof of receipt

When an air cargo carrier issues an Airway Bill, it acts as legal proof that they have received the goods mentioned in the bill. The document is subject to legal scrutiny in case of any dispute.

Contact information among all parties

The Airway Bill contains detailed contact information like the physical address, website, email address, and phone numbers of all the parties involved in the trade.

Contract of carriage between shipper and carrier

All Airway Bills contain a detailed agreement and terms and conditions under which the trade is to occur. These are enlisted behind the Airway Bill.

Freight bill

A freight bill contains details of all the ancillary charges that are during the trade. Airway Bills includes all of this information. When paired with the supporting documents, it can play the role of a freight bill and help with the accounting process.

Customs declaration

Airway bill is one of the most critical documents presented at the customs clearance desk. It is a legal document containing details about the freight being moved via air.

Description and Guidelines

Airway Bills contain a detailed description of the goods that are being moved. It also includes the quantity of the goods as well as the nature of the product. Additionally, if there are any particular guidelines to be followed while moving the goods, the airway bill also mentions them for the shipping company’s benefit.

Certificate of Insurance

Since the Airway Bill is legal proof that the carrier has received the goods, it can also be used by the carrier to insure the goods, especially if requested by the supplier.

Tracking of shipment

Each airway bill has its own unique ‘Airway Bill Number.’ If you want to track your shipment, all you have to do is input the corresponding airway bill number on the carrier’s website, and they will show you the latest information about your cargo.

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House Airway Bill (HAWB)

When the freight forwarder or shipping forwarder receives the goods sent via air cargo from the supplier, they provide the supplier with an airway bill. It acts as a receipt of delivery, containing details of the cargo as well as the terms and conditions of the transaction.

This type of Airway Bill is known as a House Airway Bill (HAWB).

Master Airway Bill (MAWB)

When the primary carrier or the shipping company receives the freight forwarder’s goods, they sign and issue an airway bill, which contains the details of the air cargo to be transported, such as the terms and conditions, routes, contents of the cargo, etc.

This type of airway bill is known as a Master Airway Bill.

Electronic Airway Bill (EAWB)

An Electronic Airway Bill (E-AWB) is a term used by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for the transfer of crucial information related to the trade between the primary cargo operator and the freight operator. E-AWBs are used in place of traditional Airway Bills to reduce paper usage and cut the processing time and costs.

Airway Bill - Format and Color Codes

A total of eight copies of an airway bill is made - each having its purpose and a color-code. The first three copies are known as original bills, while the rest are copies.

The following table talks about what the color code of the Airway Bills means:

Airway Bill Copies

Airway Bill (AWB) - Tracking Number

What is it?

Each airway bill issued by a carrier bears a unique 11 digit Airway Bill Number/AWB Number. The AWB number makes it very easy to track the packages and keeps a tab on all the movements along the various trade routes. Once an AWB is issued, the shipping company will identify your consignment only by its unique AWB number.

Where can I find it?

The AWB number is mentioned on all the copies of the Airway Bill. Alternatively, you can obtain your AWB number from any messages or emails that the company has sent you about your consignment.

However, even if you have none of these, you can simply contact the shipping company and ask them for the AWB number of your shipment by answering a few questions and providing them the details of the shipment.

Tracking your cargo using AWB number

If you want to know the current status of your air cargo, all you have to do is go to the website of your shipping company and input the AWB number of the cargo. The website will display the latest available tracking report of your shipment along with an estimated time of arrival. It also includes all the details of the cargo's air route.

Difference between Airway Bill and Bill of Lading

Exporters, in their early days, often get confused between two documents that are more distinct than they are similar, namely the airway bill and the Bill of Lading (BL). One of the reasons for this confusion is that both the documents are legally binding on the parties and contain the shipment details.

However, there’s much that separates the AWB from the BoL. Here are some of the differences between these documents:

  1. Mode of Transport: AWB is used when cargo is moved via air freight, while the BL is issued when the consignment is to be loaded on a vessel and sent via ocean routes.

  2. Legal Status: The BL is a document of title to goods, meaning it is proof of ownership of the goods. Hence, an original copy of the BoL is surrendered while receiving the goods. However, AWB is not a document of title to goods and is only a proof of delivery.

  3. Conventions and Norms: AWBs are issued as per the standard format set by the IATA and abides by the Warsaw Convention, Hague Amendment, Montreal Convention, etc. A BL is administered as per the Hague Rules, The Hague-Visby Rules, and US COGSA (US Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1936. ), etc.

  4. Number of Copies: The AWB is issued in a set of 8 copies, out of which the first three are called original and the rest of the copies. The BL is given in a set of 6 copies, out of which three are originals, and the other 3 are copies.


1. How to generate an airway bill?

To generate an AWB, log in to your account on your shipping company's website, and add the AWB number provided to you by them. Add the items to be shipped under the Airway Bill and click on "Save.”

2. What is the purpose of the airway bill?

An Airway Bill is a legally binding document that serves as proof of receipt of goods by the issuing authority.

3. Why is the airway bill a non-negotiable deal?

Airway Bills are non-negotiable documents because, unlike Bills of Lading, they do not transfer the goods’ ownership and are just proof of receipt.

4. Is the airway bill the same as the tracking number?

Each Airway Bill consists of a unique number known as an Airway Bill number. It can be used to track the package and learn the latest status and other details like ETA, air route, etc.

5. How do I check my airway bill?

To track your cargo using your Airway Bill, visit your shipping company's website and input your Airway Bill number. The details of your cargo, as well as the latest tracking information, will be displayed.

6. How many types of airway bills are there?

There are two types of Airway Bills- Neutral AWBs and Airline Specific AWBs. Neutral AWBs don’t have a logo, while the airline-specific AWBs must have a carrier’s name and details like head office address, logo, website as well as an AWB number.

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