Air waybill

Air waybill

Air Waybill (AWB) or air consignment note refers to a receipt issued by an international courier company for goods and an evidence of the contract of carriage, but it is not a document of title to the goods. Hence, the AWB is non-negotiable.

The AWB has a tracking number which can be used to check the status of delivery, and current position of the shipment. The number consists of a three digits airline identifier issued by IATA and a 8 digit number. The last number being a check digit. The first 7 digits can be divided by 7 using Long division and the remainder will be the last digit. The first three copies are classified as originals. The first copy is retained by the issuing carrier or their appointed agent. The 2nd copy by the receiving carrier or their appointed agent. The 3rd copy is used as Proof Of Delivery (POD).

The goods in the air consignment are consigned directly to the party (the consignee) named in the letter of credit (L/C). Unless the goods are consigned to a third party like the issuing bank, the importer can obtain the goods from the carrier at destination without paying the issuing bank or the consignor. Therefore, unless a cash payment has been received by the exporter or the buyer's integrity is unquestionable, consigning goods directly to the importer is risky.

For air consignment to certain destinations, it is possible to arrange payment on a COD (cash on delivery) basis and consign the goods directly to the importer. The goods are released to the importer only after the importer makes the payment and complies with the instructions in the AWB.

In air freight, the exporter (the consignor) often engages a freight forwarder or consolidator to handle the forwarding of goods. The consignor provides a Shipper's Letter of Instructions which authorizes the forwarding agent to sign certain documents (e.g. the AWB) on behalf of the consignor.

The AWB must indicate that the goods have been accepted for carriage, and it must be signed or authenticated by the carrier or the named agent for or on behalf of the carrier. The signature or authentication of the carrier must be identified as carrier, and in the case of agent signing or authenticating, the name and the capacity of the carrier on whose behalf the agent signs or authenticates must be indicated.

International AWBs that contain consolidated cargo are called master air waybills (MAWB). MAWBs have additional papers called house air waybills (HAWB). Each HAWB contains information of each individual shipment (consignee, contents, etc.) within the consolidation. International AWBs that are not consolidated (only one shipment in one bill) are called "simple AWBs".

A house air waybill can also be created by a freight forwarder. When the shipment is booked, the airline issues a MAWB to the forwarder, who in turn issues their own house air waybill to the customer.

Air Waybill Number

The AWB number has 11 digits and 3 parts.

*The first 3 digits are the "Airline Prefix"
*The next 7 digits is the "Serial Number" of the AWB
*The last digit is the "Check Digit"
**The check digit is derived by dividing the 7 digit Serial Number by 7. The remainder determines the Check Digit. Example: Serial Number 8114074 divided by 7 is 1159153 remainder 3. Therefore the Serial Number + Check Digit is 81140743.


A copy of a British Caledonian Airways air waybill can be seen on the back of the cover of the album Band On The Run by Wings.


Cargo Agent's Handbook, Resolution 807, IATA.

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