eAWBs: Everything Freight Forwarders Need to Know
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Electronic air waybills (eAWBs) are the next evolution in air cargo management. A digital alternative to paper air waybills, eAWBs make it possible to streamline operations, improve performance and reduce error risk for freight forwarders.
These benefits are critical as global economies recover and air cargo demand reaches record highs. As noted by The Loadstar, freight forwarders say they expect both air cargo demand and the price of air cargo transport to continue climbing at least through early 2022 and possibly into mid-year. And even if air demand begins to fall, the increasingly complex nature of supply chains now puts freight forwarders on the hook for knowing where their shipments are at all times — no matter how they’re being transported.
- Just like their paper counterparts, eAWBs contain all relevant information about shipments sent by air, and effectively replace physical waybills as the contract of carriage between freight forwarders and airlines.
- Unlike paper waybills, eAWBs can’t be lost or misplaced, and it’s easy for forwarders, air cargo companies, and customs officials to quickly find the information they need using a mobile device or desktop.
- Benefits include lower processing costs, faster approvals, easier access to information, and more.
Not sure how eAWBs may affect your operations? Here’s everything freight forwarders need to know about electronic air waybills.
What is an eAWB?
As noted above, eAWBs are digital versions of physical air waybills. Just like their paper counterparts, eAWBs contain all relevant information about shipments sent by air, and effectively replace physical waybills as the contract of carriage between freight forwarders and airlines.
These electronic options were originally developed in 2008, and in 2009 were adopted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as a recommended practice for shippers and freight forwarders. Electronic waybills were subsequently endorsed by the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association (FIATA).
Why does the shift from paper to electronic air waybills matter for freight forwarders?
According to the IATA, air cargo now accounts for the shipment of more than $6 trillion worth of goods each year, or around 35 percent of all world trade by value.
While air waybills are a critical part of the shipment process, the sheer amount of information required — from cargo values to origins to transport partners to eventual destinations and customs details — creates a massive amount of paper. For a single air cargo trip, anywhere from 20 to 30 different documents may be required to ensure all regulatory obligations are met and cargo can proceed unhindered.
Electronic air waybills offer a way to eliminate the potential complexity that comes with their paper counterparts. Unlike paper waybills, eAWBs can’t be lost or misplaced, and it’s easy for forwarders, air cargo companies, and customs officials to quickly find the information they need using a mobile device or desktop, rather than searching for the original physical waybill or a faxed or printed copy.
At a larger scale, the shift to electronic documentation in air transport is rapidly gaining ground. Driven by necessity and picking up pace thanks to ongoing pandemic pressures, eAWBs represent the next step in air cargo management: The simplification, centralization, and digitization of key documents.
Benefits of eAWBs Over Paper Waybills
Making the move to eAWBs offers significant benefits over paper waybills, including:
- Lower processing costs
Electronic documents don’t require physical storage space, transport, or regular assessment to ensure they’re still intact. As a result, freight forwarders can save money on processing eAWBs since the waybill can be sent to anyone, anytime without the need to find, print, and physically deliver documents.
- Reduced cargo delays
Missing waybills or incorrect data on paper waybill documents can result in cargo delays that cost freight forwarders time and money. Electronic waybills, meanwhile, reduce the risk of improper documentation and can be updated on-demand to keep shipments on track.
- Increased approval speed
Using eAWBs means you don’t need to file paper waybills, in turn making it easier for airline and import officials to assess your shipment and make approval decisions. And in cases where physical bills are still required, digital versions can be easily printed out as hard copies.
- Easy access to data
Since digital data isn’t tied to physical documents, your team can easily access or modify shipment information as needed anywhere, anytime using your current enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution or purpose-built digital freight management software.
Impacts of Not Making the eAWB Move
As noted above, the move to eAWBs is recommended — but not necessarily required — by organizations such as IATA and FIATA. This hasn’t stopped many carriers from making changes, however. For example, while paper waybills are still accepted, some airlines now charge additional processing fees for handling and physical waybills.
Paper waybills also come with the risk of data entry errors, which could in turn lead to delays or increased costs. Consider a scenario where the dimensions of an item are incorrectly entered onto a paper waybill — but the error is only noticed after the shipment has arrived at the airport. Best case scenario? The carrier discovers the issue but still has room on the plane to accommodate your shipment. You have to pay more — possibly even a premium for the late notice — but the shipment still arrives on time. Worst case? Improper documentation means there’s not enough room on the plane for your cargo, or the nature of your shipment means it can’t clear export customs without exact dimensions. As a result, the package is returned at your cost and you have to start the shipping process over again.
Using eAWBs, meanwhile, making the change is easy; companies simply update the information on the digital waybill to ensure it’s accurate.
How to Get the Most from eAWBs
While the shipping industry is on track to embrace eAWBs at scale, challenges remain in creating and handling these waybills. For example, many smaller companies lack the technology to create and transmit these waybills, while larger freight forwarders may still be leveraging legacy solutions that are difficult to upgrade and maintain. Forwarders also point to complexity around managing multiple eAWBs for different airline carriers, in turn frustrating efforts to improve efficiency.
Thankfully, the digital nature of eAWBs makes them ideal candidates for software-driven management. By integrating your eAWBs directly into the Magaya Digital Freight Platform, freight forwarders gain key advantages such as:
- Reduced complexity
By centralizing your digital freight forwarding operations — including eAWB management — your company can reduce total complexity. Instead of wasting time looking for specific paper documents or finding the right program to access specific document types, Magaya’s integrated solution gives you everything you need to manage air transport, all in one place.
- Increased visibility
The more you know about your cargo, the better. And the easier it is to access this information, the easier it is to see exactly where your shipments are, when they will arrive, and if any actions are needed on your part to meet regulatory approval. Simply put, Magaya lets you see what matters, when it matters most.
- Enhanced communication
Along with real-time data access, you also get the benefit of instant response messages and acknowledgments from your airline carrier in addition to live freight status updates in your Magaya system, in turn providing enhanced communication from the moment shipments leave to the moment they arrive.
- Improved customer satisfaction
Reduced errors, enhanced speed, and access to real-time data mean freight forwarders leveraging the Magaya platform for eAWB management can always keep customers in the loop about what’s happening, why, and when packages will arrive. The result? Improved customer satisfaction from end-to-end.
Put simply, electronic air waybills are the future of freight forwarding — so it’s worth making sure you’re ready to make the most of this digital document approach.
Ready to improve freight forwarding efficiency with eAWBs?
See how Magaya can help.