March 2016 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Flying High With Electronic Air Waybills

Tags: Air Cargo, Transportation, Logistics, Supply Chain

Jan Markill is Sales Director, EMEA, Descartes Systems Group, 800-419-8495

On March 1, 2016, 15 airlines introduced the single-process approach for one of the industry's most important transportation documents: the electronic Air Waybill (eAWB). Developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), in collaboration with industry stakeholders, the eAWB is a digital version of the paper air waybill (AWB).

The air cargo industry still relies heavily on paper documentation to exchange information. In fact, each international airfreight shipment can require more than 30 different paper documents, according to IATA. The eAWB is IATA's flagship initiative for a paperless air cargo industry; with it, there is no longer a need to print, handle, or archive the paper AWB, dramatically simplifying the airfreight supply chain.

Clear Benefits

With competitive rates, shifts to alternate transport modes, 100-ton airships, and the rise of drone delivery, air carriers today need to improve all aspects of business—from tender and transit to delivery. Governments and customs authorities are also pressuring carriers to provide digital information hours in advance of wheels-up. Airlines must gather this information from supply chain participants and transmit the required data elements to ensure compliance.

The eAWB can address regulatory requirements and industry pressures, as well as minimize inefficiencies, increase customer visibility, enable better connectivity, and provide further services. The eAWB will improve the accuracy of information airlines need to populate security filings and to streamline a high volume of shipments. It's an industry milestone that top carriers switched to the single-process method as the preferred way to ship freight to any destination—not just eAWB-enabled destinations.

The eAWB also will help forwarders improve communication with carriers and ground handling agents (GHAs), reduce cargo processing times with priority handling of eAWB-enabled shipments, decrease direct and indirect costs of cargo security filing requirements by reusing electronic data, provide added digital AWB tracking capabilities for a differentiated service offering, and speed billing.

Essentially, the single process makes it easier for forwarders to give airlines digital airway bill information by placing primary responsibility on carriers. Forwarders no longer need to worry about destination or transit countries, determine whether an airport or trade lane is eAWB-enabled, or establish if a shipment qualifies for digital submission.

With a digitized eAWB, GHAs minimize data entry errors and reduce the costs associated with duplicate data entry. The resulting productivity and efficiency gains mean cargo spends less time in the warehouse and more freight is moved, thanks to increases in capacity.

Streamlining the Skies

How organizations implement the eAWB is critical to maximize the initiative's potential benefits and realize added value. For all participants, technology solutions must include options to add services as business needs evolve, and to reuse data so information can be repurposed for maximum benefit.

As Air Canada, Air France-KLM, American Airlines, British Airways/Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Etihad Airways, Finnair, Lufthansa Cargo, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, SWISS, and United Airlines implement the eAWB single-process approach, industry-wide involvement in the program is encouraged as paperless air cargo supply chain operations lower costs, increase data accuracy, and improve the customer experience.