IATA’s head of cargo business process and standards, Frederic Leger, describes recent agreement on a new multilateral electronic air waybill as “the biggest achievement in standard-setting in air freight in 20 years.”
Standardization of the format for the e-AWB is expected to accelerate the industry’s move toward paperless transportation. Before this, Leger says, carriers were confronted with signing hundreds or even thousands of separate bilateral agreements with individual forwarders.
Following a year-long development process culminating in three months of trials that involved 15 carriers and eight forwarders, the IATA/FIATA Consultative Council (IFCC) endorsed the multilateral e-AWB agreement in February with some minor amendments. IATA formally adopted the agreement as its new Resolution 672 at the 35th Cargo Services Conference (CSC/35) in Doha, immediately ahead of the World Cargo Symposium.
The agreement was this week filed with governments, from whom IATA is seeking expedited approval in 30 days. “We hope to go live before mid-year,” Leger says. “We see e-Freight as essential for the future competitiveness of air cargo, and the e-AWB is the cornerstone of e-Freight. Agreeing the multilateral e-AWB is a game changer, and should go a long way toward reaching our target of the 20 percent e-AWB adoption rate we have set as our target for 2013.”
While early adopters in the airline community, including Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air and Singapore Airlines, overcame the logistical obstacles, they commented that having to draft separate bilaterals with forwarders would prevent wider implementation and delay the e-Freight objective.
“The standard bilateral that we initially developed, which allowed forwarders to make their own amendments, still left the industry facing extra costs but rapidly proved the concept,” Leger says. “Cathay adopted it in 2011 and then, in the middle of last year, we started work on the multilateral agreement.
“There were long discussions between carriers and forwarders as we tried to come up with an acceptable formula. This did not concern technical or operational aspects, but was more to do with what the governing law should be. Each nationality wanted to follow its own jurisdiction and consensus was necessary.”
As soon as trials began in October, Leger says the participants could see the value of the multilateral agreement. IATA hopes it will acts as the springboard for its ultimate target of 100 percent conversion to e-AWB by 2015.