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The paper air waybill has been further pushed towards the history book following IATA’s decision to make e-air waybills (eAWBs) the “default” on feasible tradelanes.
From January 1, eAWBs will be normal practice and paper will be considered “non-standard”.
IATA has struggled to promote eAWBs since enabling their use in 2010; since then, the industry has consistently missed its targets.
The current target for eAWB penetration is 68% by the end of December – at the end of September, the industry was at 55.9%, just 1.7 percentage points up from the previous month.
In October last year, penetration was 51.1%, indicating that the 2018 target appears again well out of reach.
“The reason we are doing it now is that when we raised this initiative at the end of 2017, more than 50% of the shipments were using the eAWB as their digital shipment record, and the growing number of stakeholders using it demonstrated that the industry is ready to embrace full digitalisation,” said a spokesperson for IATA.
“It was the right momentum to capitalise on the increase of e-AWB adoption. Over the past three years, the number of e-AWBs has almost doubled while the total number of AWBs grew by 20%.”
She added: “This decision, taken by the Cargo Services Conference, is an important step as it recognises that eAWBs reflect the majority of shipments on feasible tradelanes.
“The old IATA rules were written in a way that stated paper AWBs were required and electronic was optional, ie, subject to agreement by the business partners.
“The rules will now state that electronic AWBs are the standard method on feasible tradelanes and that paper AWBs are optional, ie, subject to agreement by the business partners.”
Some airlines, such as Lufthansa Cargo, have already taken matters into their own hands and begun to charge for paper AWBs.
While the Cargo Service Conference comprises airline members, IATA said its decision was also supported by FIATA.
Large forwarders are on board. Lothar Moehle, director AVSEC & governance at Schenker told IATA: “The e-AWB has been an important process already since 2010 and we are eager to move towards a 100% penetration level.
“With the decision towards default e-AWB, the industry is just taking the next logical step.”
But it has been smaller forwarders which have struggled with eAWBs, and it is not yet clear what practical difference the decision will make. One medium-sized forwarder said its eAWB adoption was just 5%. “Carriers just aren’t pushing it,” he said.
IATA’s statistics for eAWB adoption in companies show only the largest forwarders appearing on the list – while the same list for airlines is headed by flydubai and Kenya Airways.
There is still a long way to go – even the biggest users and countries of eAWBs still only boast between about 60% and 70% adoption.
While paper AWBs will now be non-standard, there is no penalty for using them, unless imposed by individual airlines.