DGM Network

Since 1987 taking the danger out of dangerous goods

As technology advances, the way business is made changes as well. In the case of dangerous goods documentation, electronic-based alternatives are being introduced for the traditional paper documents used for air shipments, most notably the Air Waybill. Will electronic data techniques completely replace the use of paper? What are the potential benefits for operators and users?



The electronic Air Waybill

The Air Waybill is the document that constitutes the contract between the shipper and the operator in an air shipment. It contains all the relevant information of the shipment, from operators' identification to the consignment technical data. If a shipment includes dangerous goods, this must be clearly stated on the Air Waybill, adding the pertinent information to two sections: Handling Information and Nature and Quantity of Goods.

While the Air Waybill has been used for decades in the air transport industry, IATA is promoting a shift from its traditional form to an electronic version, the electronic Air Waybill (e-AWB). The implementation of the e-AWB would suppose the use of electronic data interchange technology instead of paper forms.

Two conventions allow the use of the e-AWB instead of a paper document: The Montreal Protocol 4 and the Montreal Convention 99. These conventions are applicable to the shipment if both the countries of origin and destination have signed the same convention.

Additionally, the local laws applicable to the shipment must allow the use of electronic contracts, since that is the nature of the e-AWB. Airlines need to foresee the use of electronic documents in their contracts as well.

As of September 2015 (the last month for which official data is available), current implementation of e-AWB is of 34.2% of the routes where its use is feasible. While the adoption has been consistently increasing during the last few years, this figure is still far from the objective of 45% by the end of 2015.

Modifying the way the industry has been working for decades has not proven easy. Among the difficulties to adopt the e-AWB, an opposition from local authorities and security concerns regarding to information access and storage are cited. Furthermore, agents feel stopped by a lack of updated regulations, of the resources to change processes, systems and workflow of companies, and of the funds to invest in information technology.

On the other hand, potential benefits of the shift to e-AWB include a simplification of processes and a reduction of costs, which would result in increases of productivity and efficiency. The use of electronic techniques is seen as an opportunity to improve data quality. Potentially, it could lead to a more sustainable and efficient transport, including the implementation of intelligent transportation systems and other advanced management tools.


Other documentation

Even if the Shipper's Declaration for Dangerous Goods is overwhelmingly presented on a printed declaration forms nowadays, the DGR already recognizes the possibility to provide it in electronic format if an agreement with the operator has been reached. However, even if the Shipper's Declaration is kept electronically, the shipper must be able to reproduce them in a printed form.


Sources: IATATechnical requirements of the e-Waybill service, Air Cargo News, Air Cargo World, Times of Malta

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