An Airway Bill is also referred to as an AWB, air waybill, consignment note or dispatch note. In this article we explain its features and purpose, the types of AWB, how to obtain it and answer some commonly asked questions.

What is an Airway Bill?

The AWB is a legal document which binds a carrier or agent with a shipper. There are three parties involved in an air waybill – the sender, the airline, and the recipient.

For the shipper (who is also addressed as a sender or consignor), an AWB serves as a receipt from the carrier assigned by the sender to carry goods by air from point A to point B, either across international borders or domestically.

An airway bill is a legal agreement enforceable by law, and it is non-negotiable. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) distributes a standard AWB form which can be issued by an airline.

The detailed information in an AWB allows for tracking, as well as a record of the goods being shipped, the sender and recipient, terms and conditions, and other information. 

Is an Airway Bill the same as a Bill of Lading?

Yes and no. Both an AWB and a B/L are proofs of receipt issued by a carrier of goods on the receipt of goods on carriage. However, the AWB is for transportation by air whereas the B/L is for transportation by sea.

Although both are legal documents accompanying the goods on a carrier, the AWB is just a contract for transportation and does not cover the value of cargo. Airway bills are also non-negotiable instruments, unlike B/Ls which can be either negotiable or non-negotiable.

The contents of the two documents are similar. Both hold details about the cargo, how it should be handled by the carrier, the terms of carriage, departure and destination details, as well as sender and recipient’s details.

Airway Bill format

The format of the AWB used to be on a one-page print but nowadays, the standard is an electronic version called e-AWB that is filled out and stored electronically. Although each airline may have its own AWB layout, the format and fields within the form should be similar.

An Airway Bill form issued by an airline will come with the airline’s logo and pre-populated information for the airline. If it is not issued by an airline, it is considered a neutral AWB and would not contain a specific airline’s logo or the airline details.

Generally, the format should include:

What is the Airway Bill number?

An AWB number is an 11-digit number generated by the issuer which is used to make bookings for air carriage. It is also used for tracking the status and location of the shipment.

How many digits is an Airway Bill?

It usually has 11 numbers. The first 3 digits represent the code for the airline. The other 8 digits are the AWB number for the cargo.

However, some specialised courier service providers such as DHL and Fedex may have different numbers of digits. DHL has 10 digits while Fedex has up to 12. 

How do I find my Airway Bill number?

You can find it on the top right corner of the AWB form. If it has been filled, there should be 11 numbers. If it has not yet been filled, it would have only 3 numbers followed by a dash.

Is Airway Bill the same as tracking number?

Yes, the AWB number also functions as a tracking number as well.

What is FWC in an Airway Bill?

FWC is short for ‘full loaded weight and capacity’ container.

How do I get an Airway Bill copy?

The bill is issued in eight sets of different colors. The first 3 copies are the original.

The first original (green) is the issuing carrier’s copy. The second (pink) is the consignee’s copy. The third (blue) is the shipper’s copy.

The fourth copy is brown, and it serves as the receipt and proof of delivery. The other four copies are white. However, some airlines no longer use paper AWBs.

Since the implementation of the Multilateral Electronic Air Waybill Resolution 672 in 2010, paper air waybills are no longer required but they are still accepted. As of 2019, the e-AWB has become the default contract for all air cargo shipments on enabled trade lines.

The electronic version requires and contains the same information as the paper version. Storage of the e-AWB is safer, more organized and reduces the need for paper. 

How to track an Airway Bill number  

AWB tracking can be done by keying in the AWB number in one of the many online platforms for tracking. Using the platform which belongs to the courier service provider or carrier is another option.

How to get an Airway Bill for export

A shipper needs to engage an airline or air carrier to arrange for shipment to be exported via air transport. The shipper must complete an AWB form with all the necessary details.

The air carrier will then issue an AWB to the shipper when it receives the cargo from the shipper, after completion of the export customs formality of the country.

Types of AWB

There are a few types of Airway Bill. What determines the type is mainly the issuer.  

Neutral Air Waybill (NAWB)

AWB forms exclusively printed by and obtained from IATA are called Neutral Airway Bills. These are approved for computer printers and have the same validity as a MAWB orHAWB with the assigned air waybill number provided by an airline.

Airline Specific Airway Bill

This type simply means that the AWB form is issued by an airline that has been appointed by a shipper to be the air carrier. The fields and layout are the same as the AWB forms issued by IATA. The only difference is that the form will have the airline’s logo and details pre-filled.

What does House Airway Bill mean?

HAWB is the acronym for House Airway Bill. It is issued by a freight forwarding company to a shipper after receiving a shipment. The forwarder then passes the cargo to an air carrier.

Air freight forwarders may issue their own Air Waybills which are similar in layout to IATA’s format. A shipper receives one bill to identify his/her consignment.

Master Airway Bill (MAWB)

This version of the bill is issued by a carrier to a freight forwarder upon receipt of a shipment. Master Air Waybills are for consolidated shipments. Airlines see this as a single shipment bill of lading.

What is Direct Airway Bill?

In a Master Air Waybill (MAWB), the airfreight agent at origin and his handling agent at destination appear as shipper and consignee in the document. Sometimes, the MAWB shows the actual exporter/importer as shipper/consignee and not the airfreight agent. This is called a Direct Air Waybill (DAWB).  

DAWB is also a service rendered when freight is not consolidated with other cargo, and there is no House Airway Bill. It is used for direct shipments especially where the freight service is needed immediately.  

When DAWB service is engaged, there is no waiting for the cargo to be transferred. The cargo is not held at any off-site forwarder warehouse.  

Usually, this arrangement is preferred for repeat cargo, dangerous goods, perishables, urgent shipments, prepaid shipments and goods which require no special handling.


In summary, an Airway Bill functions as:

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