What Is an Air Waybill (AWB)?

An air waybill (AWB) is a document that accompanies goods when shipped by an international air courier and it provides detailed information about the shipment, and also allows it to be tracked.

The AWB has multiple copies so that parties involved in the shipment can document it.

An air waybill (AWB), also known as an air consignment note, is a type of bill of lading.


What Is a Bill of Lading (B/L or BoL)

A bill of lading (BL or BoL) is a legal document issued by a carrier to a shipper that details the type, quantity, and destination of the goods being carried.
A bill of lading also serves as a shipment receipt when the carrier delivers the goods at a predetermined destination.
This document must accompany the shipped products, no matter the form of transportation, and must be signed by an authorized representative from the carrier, shipper, and receiver.


  1. Document
    Air waybill, when issued is always a non-negotiable transport document.
    Buyers could collect the consignment from the carrier at the airport of destination by simply proving their identities against the company information stated on the consignee part of the air waybill. Bill of lading on the other hand, when issued in negotiable form, represents title to the goods. For this reason, at least one original copy of the bill of lading must be surrendered to the carrier’s nominated agent at the port of discharge in order to collect the goods.
  1. Time of issuance
    An air waybill is issued by the air cargo carrier after the complete consignment has been received by the carrier and the aircraft departs from the airport of departure. A Bill of lading should be issued by the carrier after the goods are shipped on board a vessel and the vessel departs from the port of loading.


  1. How many originals and copy issued
    It is a standard practice in international container transportation to issue bills of lading in full sets, 3 originals, and 3 copies. Air waybills, on the other hand, are issued by the air cargo carrier in 9 originals.
    In the below figure, you can find how many air waybills are issued per air shipment and how all these copies will be distributed among the various parties of that particular transaction.

  1. Mode of Transport.

Bill of lading should be used with port-to-port sea shipments, whereas air waybills should be used with air shipments.

  1. Applicable Incoterms:

A Bill of lading is a transport document, which is issued in sea shipments. According to Incoterms 2010 rules all incoterms can be used with sea shipments. On the contrary, an air waybill is a transport document, which is issued in air shipments, and FAS, FOB, CFR, and CIF incoterms cannot be used with air shipments according to Incoterms 2010 rules.

  1. Governing International Regulations:

Bill of lading and air waybill is issued subject to different governing international rules. 

  • Governing International Regulations of Air Waybill: Warsaw Convention, Hague amendment, Montreal Convention.
  • Governing International Regulations of Bill of Lading: Hague Rules, The Hague-Visby Rules, and US COGSA (US Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1936).